BY ELISABETH ANDREWS
Middle Way House has long been in the business of restoration, as the organization has spent 40 years helping women put their lives back together following domestic abuse. Recently, however, its rebuilding efforts have also included a neglected section of near-downtown that was literally crumbling onto the sidewalk.
Through the New Wings project, Middle Way has revitalized the old Coca-Cola Bottling Co. building and adjacent property on the corner of South Washington and East 3rd streets, earning two 2011 Bloomington awards: the Outstanding Preservation Project Award from Bloomington Restorations, Inc. and the Downtown Revitalization Award for Economic Restructuring and Design from Downtown Bloomington, Inc.
The six-year project required $5 million in fundraising, an effort led by IU First Lady Laurie Burns McRobbie. She describes the site pre-restoration as “a pretty blighted area that didn’t feel like a good place to go walking.” Pieces of the Coca-Cola building were falling off the exterior, and the lot beside it held two steel pole-barn sheds that served as targets for graffiti. Through a number of generous donations—most of which came from Bloomington residents—Middle Way was able to repair the historic building and erect a second, similarly structured building in place of the sheds.
What made the task especially tricky was the complex set of priorities inherent in a historic-preservation/urban-revitalization/domestic-abuse-shelter project. Middle Way Executive Director Toby Strout explains that the team had to balance preservation guidelines governing elements like terrazzo flooring and glass-block windows with the neighborhood’s Unified Development Ordinance and the overarching security concerns inherent in Middle Way’s mission. Strout was also committed to sustainable elements like solar panels and a roof garden. Fortunately, she says, “We got tremendous cooperation across the board.”
The end result is a pair of aesthetically pleasing, structurally sound, functionally effective buildings that honor the 1920s design elements original to the Coca-Cola building. That building is now home to Food Works, Middle Way’s catering business that employs women staying at the shelter and provides a child-care center. The adjacent building contains colorful, light-filled living areas and office space. Shelter capacity has increased from 21 to 32 beds, and families can now enjoy a secure second-story outdoor area.
As a bonus, the block has become far more “neighborhoodly,” says Strout—which is as comforting for the families staying there as it is for the larger community.