GVSU Gives Land A Second Life

July 21, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — As industry moved out of the city, Grand Valley State University saw the chance to expand its campus in downtown Grand Rapids without displacing residents and local businesses.

“The site choice was a combination of factors, of which the most prominent was the location in the heart of the city,” said James Moyer, assistant vice president for facilities planning, of the Pew Campus and its development.  “Equally important was a site that did not remove people from their homes. The university has always had a commitment to being a good neighbor.”

Moyer said the Grand Rapids campus currently has 10 buildings, two of which are reused structures: a former rail depot and a furniture manufacturing plant. The Eberhard Center was constructed in 1988, followed by seven more new buildings between 2000 and 2004. The Kennedy Engineering Building is under construction with completion planned for 2007.

Several industrial structures were demolished to make room for the new buildings, while the former train depot was renovated and converted to office space. The furniture manufacturing plant is used for storage.

Moyer said the existing utility infrastructure was a component in deciding where the campus would be located.

“Roads, power, water, sewer and other infrastructure exists and can be reused with some improvement,” he said. “In addition, reuse limits the amount of open space that needs to be consumed.”

Moyer said there are no plans for further expansion downtown in the near future. The university currently is focused on meeting the academic and housing needs at the Allendale campus. Long-term planning for the downtown campus includes additional housing and academic space, but not within the next five years.

About 25 percent of Grand Valley’s square footage is located in Grand Rapids, serving about 25 percent of the student population. The colleges of education, nursing, business, community and public service, health professions, engineering and computing are all located at the downtown campus.

Though the programs were once based in Allendale, they have been moved to the downtown campus to better meet students’ needs, Moyer said.

Priscilla Kimboko, dean of graduate studies and grants administration, said the downtown campus is a great fit for her department, with many of the students attending classes nights or weekends. Being so close to downtown and to the highways is convenient for students and for her work with other organizations downtown, she said.

“In working downtown, I like that we’re close to other businesses.”

Amenities such as the library, computer lab, parking ramps and bookstore also make it convenient for the students, Kimboko said.

Students enjoy the option of living downtown. The campus has two residential buildings with a total area of 148,000 square feet, Kimboko said, giving them access to the city as well as an alternative to living in a traditional residence hall on the Allendale campus.

The riverside location is good for the university and for the city, she said.

“I think it’s really added to the city to have this kind of facility on this bank, and it’s so easy to get back and forth,” she said. “We’re very blessed to have such generous donors and others to help us build the buildings that are not only functional but beautiful.”    

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