YOUNGSTOWN – The combination of extensive education and a tragic loss has set Erin Timms on a path that might best be described as a path of progress.
“My brother died while I was living in Providence, RI. He passed away in November 2015 and in June 2016 I moved back to Youngstown to take care of this building,” recalls Timms, 47. “He was a big, big influence in my life.”
The 1994 Boardman High School graduate who grew up in Boardman referred to the three-story Calvin Center for the Arts at 755 Mahoning Ave., which Timms is rehabilitating to make it a functional, multipurpose building in the shadow of downtown Youngstown.
Before taking over the building, her late brother Sean, who died of a heart attack at the age of 45, bought the Calvin Center in 2009. Since then, Timms and her father, Robert Timms, have worked together to restore the top floor. she explained.
After graduating from Boardman High, Timms worked for the former North Star Steel Inc. for a number of years where her responsibilities included being part of the quality assurance team and engineering departments. Among other things, she was responsible for testing the strength of steel pipes.
Timms also studied art history and historic preservation at Youngstown State University and excavated a blast furnace at Mill Creek Park. She later earned a master’s degree in industrial archeology from Michigan Technological University in Houghton and then spent about 13 years in the field, Timms recalls.
Her professional travels also took Timms to Pawtucket, RI, where she worked at various industrial sites. The city was particularly special to her because it is part of the Blackstone River Valley, considered the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.
“As an industrial archaeologist, I hit the jackpot,” she said.
Additionally, Timms spent approximately two years in the Atlanta area working for an engineering firm, as well as for the Georgia Department of Transportation and on cell towers, which included conducting environmental assessments.
However, her time in and near the city has been challenging. The number of construction projects fell mainly because of the crash in the housing market, she noted.
In the six years since her return to the Mahoning Valley, Timms has worked tirelessly to transform the Calvin Center, built by noted builder and mason P. Ross Berry in 1877 and originally used as a school until the 1940’s.
She grows a series of vegetable gardens consisting of mint, oregano, echinacea, and other plants along the front and sides that fit her vegan lifestyle. She also has a kitchen to prepare meals for the community and for food demonstrations; Timms also wants to develop a health and wellness café, she continued.
Other plans include creating an air bed and breakfast, as well as creating more space for dining and several residential areas. Currently, Timms leases 680 Studios, a private tenant who studies music, and the Local Competitive Athletic Association, which sponsors youth and adult athletic leagues in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
Timms reflected on the renaissance that Youngstown has experienced since the steel industry declined in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as well as in recent years, which has seen an increase in business and other activity downtown. Still, Timms is a little disillusioned with what she sees as an unbalanced priority of demolishing buildings at the expense of historic preservation.
“The reality is we need housing, decent housing,” she said, adding, “We need to think more outside the box to make Youngstown grow.”
Another remaining challenge is that some communities continue to fight for resources for themselves instead of working more harmoniously with each other in the city, she observed. Despite these and other difficulties, Youngstown has the potential to aspire to greater prosperity, Timms said.
It is also important to develop and implement more positive ways in a limited time to improve the planet, she said.
“All we have is today,” added Timms.
The Timms family also includes parents Robert and Kathy Timms and sisters Shannon and Kristen.
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