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GVSU Extends Its Reach
GRAND RAPIDS — The dedication last fall of the Richard M. DeVos Center on Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus made headlines for expanding the university’s reach and contributing to the rebirth of downtown Grand Rapids.
But the university’s downtown expansion also was newsworthy because it represented another grand chunk in President Arend D. Lubbers’ legacy to both GVSU and the area. Currently the longest serving university president in the nation, Lubbers’ retirement June 30 will end an era of leadership that began in 1968 when he was named president of what was then Grand Valley State College.
For those reasons, GVSU’s downtown campus expansion has been nominated by the Business Journal Editorial Board as one of the 10 finalists for the 2000 Newsmaker of the Year award.
In the 1980s, a large percentage of Grand Valley students taking evening classes lived in the east part of Grand Rapids or east of the city, Lubbers recalled, and GVSU had been renting classroom space at Union High School and other downtown facilities to accommodate them.
“We thought it was important to provide courses for that population and to provide them in a central location that was easy to get to and didn’t require them to commute to Allendale,” Lubbers recalled. So a downtown campus was established in 1988 with the dedication of the L.V. Eberhard Center just across the U.S. 131 expressway on the banks of the Grand River.
Construction of the $52.8 million DeVos Center began in mid-October 1997 with $35 million in state appropriations and more than $17 million in private contributions raised by GVSU. Rich DeVos and his wife, Helen, donated the largest private gift — $7.75 million — toward land, construction and programs. DeVos further served as honorary chairman of the private fundraising effort, the Grand Design 2000 Campaign.
The facility was named after DeVos because he was a strong advocate for a downtown campus while a member of the university’s Board of Control from 1975 to 1982. He sat on the GVSU Foundation board when it was established in 1981 and became its president in 1991. Under his leadership, the university endowment grew from $9 million to more than $21 million, and foundation membership increased from 1,500 to more than 2,600.
“We named it for him because he has served the university for such a long time, because he has been a great citizen of West Michigan and because he has used his resources to assist the university,” Lubbers said at the groundbreaking ceremony.
The 256,000-square-foot, five-story DeVos Center, dedicated on Sept. 8 last year, houses the Seidman School of Business and the Van Andel Global Trade Center. All the university’s business and graduate-level programs are now centralized on the 20-acre downtown campus. The center features 18 general classrooms, three distance education classrooms, two lecture halls, 18 conference rooms, a 232-seat auditorium, two 112-seat lecture halls and a 4,400-square-foot exhibitor hall.
A highlight of the DeVos Center is the 10,400-square-foot Steelcase Library, which features a $600,000 automated book retrieval system with the capacity to store up to 250,000 books. The library includes all of GVSU’s business, criminal justice, social work, public and non-profit administration, engineering and law collections. It also is home to the Council of Michigan Foundations Library collection and the Grand Rapids Bar Association’s law library collection. The Steelcase Library is one of only three automated libraries in the nation.
About 6,400 people use the campus presently and Lubbers anticipates that will increase to 10,000 in the near future. GVSU has a deal to buy the DeWitt Barrels Inc. property. Although there are no specific plans for that land presently, additional downtown campus parking and student housing are being considered.
“We have one apartment house downtown and that filled right away. So our students apparently do like being down there,” Lubbers said. “If there is a need for more academic facilities, then the university would probably launch out from the DeVos Center, build another courtyard and probably have an Oxford-like campus. If that moves into parking lots then you have to have parking somewhere else, which means the possibility of ramping. Those are the things that under consideration right now.”
The university’s next project will be a $57 million, five-story, 215,000-square-foot Center for Health Professions to be built on the corner of Michigan Street and Lafayette Avenue downtown, which will become the home base for all GVSU’s health professions and health sciences programs.
The downtown location will put it directly within Michigan’s Life Sciences Corridor and near to the region’s major health care providers and research institutes. Groundbreaking is slated for this summer and completion is targeted for 2003. The state has committed $37.1 million to the project and local donors have pledged $16 million, among them Audrey Sebastian, Peter Cook, Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel. The university will raise the remaining $4 million.
The new health building will provide programs and opportunities in health education that didn’t exist before, Lubbers observed, possibly a school of pharmacy.
“The demand is so heavy out there,” he said. “That would be a natural addition to the programs we have to make a complete program for health education. Our view is that Michigan State is here with a medical school and we should offer everything else and cooperate with the medical school.”
GVSU also has been working with Detroit College of Law and Michigan State University to bring legal education to Grand Rapids. As Lubbers noted, some GVSU students pursuing master’s degrees in business, taxation, public administration and social work would also like a law degree.
Lubbers is wrapping up his career with GVSU by getting a lot of new things started.
When he retires in June, the last pieces of his legacy will be falling into place, with the start of construction on the Center for Health Professions, additions to the Kirkhoff Student Center and Mackinac Hall on the Allendale campus, and construction of four new housing units on the campus.
His objective has been to make sure those projects were all financed, he said. He’ll let the next president complete them and dedicate them.
Although Lubbers has enjoyed most of his tenure with the university, he recalls some “tough spots” created by the Vietnam War and the troubles that erupted on campus. Periods of economic recession created difficult times as well, as they do for all college administrators, he said.
“There have been tough times, but as I look over my 32 years here from the beginning to the end of my career, I’d say it’s been one of great satisfaction and tremendous gratitude to be in a place that could thrive as Grand Valley has.
“I always looked at where the university was and saw where it could go. Once it got there, I could see where it should go next. It was an evolving vision.”