GRAM Progress Measured

August 30, 2006
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GRAND RAPIDS — The grand opening of the Grand Rapids Art Museum in June 2007 is expected to attract an enormous amount of national attention because it will be the first LEED-rated art museum in the world.

The art museum finished soliciting donations for its $75 million capital campaign in June, but will continue to accept gifts toward the fund until December, said Executive Director Celeste Adams. The museum sent solicitation mailings to 250,000 people in the West Michigan area and did repeat mailings to some people on the list, she noted. According to Adams, the museum is on track to exceed its campaign goal.

The museum broke ground in September 2004 on the site at 101 Monroe Center, a site that was donated by the Downtown Development Authority a few years earlier. The progress of construction on the 128,000-square-foot museum has been what Adams calls “measured.” It was originally projected to open this fall. She said a LEED-rated or green building requires special construction practices, and there are many more rules and regulations that have to be followed on the construction site, such as reuse of building materials. That requires some extra time and effort, she said.

“The museum couldn’t be happier with the way the construction has been supervised and managed,” Adams said. “We’re very pleased with the progress and the quality of the work.”

Roger Rehkopf, vice president of Rockford Construction and project manager, said the building is situated on a very tight site, which is a challenge in itself. The museum’s HVAC and electrical systems are very sophisticated and incorporate special pieces of equipment for high-energy efficiency, he said. Insulation and other building materials were selected for their energy conservation qualities, as well.

The technique of pouring architectural concrete for the art museum is a labor intensive process that produces a smooth, highly refined concrete surface.

“There are some other projects coming on downtown that seem to be moving faster, but all the concrete you see going up on those projects will be buried within walls,” Rehkopf noted. “In the architectural cast-in-place that we are doing, the concrete is the finished product. We’re using special forming — special form ties and form liners and we’re building all the forms on site. We can only use the forms three times and then we have to rebuild them to get the quality of finish that is needed.”

Rehkopf said some materials are being imported, including granite and one-and-a-quarter-inch-thick glass for the three lanterns that will be placed on top of the building.

The art museum will have three phases of opening. On Dec. 1 this year, museum officials will light a 35-foot-tall tree on the museum lawn to herald the opening of the ice-skating season at Rosa Parks Circle. The event will mark the art museum’s change of address from 155 N. Division Ave. to 101 Monroe Center and will signal the first-phase move-in of museum staff into the administration wing of the building, Adams said.

On Feb. 18 the museum will host a private party for major donor Peter Wege, whose foundation gave the lead gift of $20 million.

The following day, Feb. 19, the museum will open its education center and launch a major initiative called Teachers First, she said. At that time, the museum will send mailings and directly contact 10,000 teachers of all grade levels from all West Michigan schools. During the three-month initiative, teachers will get hard-hat tours of the new museum, will be introduced to the museum’s permanent collection, and will learn about the building’s LEED features, said Kristyn Zinner of the museum’s public relations department. Teachers will also be introduced to the Children’s Art Studio, as well as to the Teacher Resource Center, which is a collection of books, periodicals and DVDs. They’ll receive curriculum materials that can be integrated into classroom activities in preparation for, or as a follow-up to, museum visits.

The grand opening celebration will be in June 2007, but there won’t be any art displayed at that time. The art galleries will actually open in September, Adams said.

The former federal building where the museum is currently located will be taken over by Kendall College of Art and Design, so it’s a win-win situation as Adams sees it.

“I think the dream of many people for many years will finally come true. I think it’s a great gift, certainly on the part of Peter Wege. The community owes him a great debt of gratitude. It’s a superlative gift that will be enjoyed by people’s children and their children’s children for many years. One thing about doing a phased opening is that it allows you to engage people — people get to share in the excitement of this unfolding story.”    

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