Hispanic Center Returns Home

January 2, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The brick Engine House No. 12 in the heart of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood was recently restored and reoccupied by its owner, the Hispanic Center of West Michigan.

The building's deteriorated condition had forced the HispanicCenter to relocate in 1998, and staff moved in with Clinica Santa Maria down the road. The Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association subsequently spearheaded a capital campaign and drummed up $1.3 million to rehab the old firehouse at

1204 Grandville Ave. SW.

Mary Angelo, executive director of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association said the former firehouse, which sits in the heart of the neighborhood at a main intersection and is considered a neighborhood icon, had become a real eyesore as it sat vacant for nine years. The roof leaked, the building was slowly rotting away and birds had made a home of it, she recalled. Although the building is owned by the HispanicCenter, it's not the center's mission to undertake capital campaigns, Angelo said.

"It's sort of our job as a neighborhood association to take 10 steps back, look at the neighborhood and figure out what's the next important thing that needs to be done for the neighborhood," Angelo explained. "The firehouse project just jumped right out at us; we saw it as the best thing we could do for this neighborhood at this moment in time."

Individual donors, corporations and local foundations contributed to the campaign, as did a $100,000 Cool Cities grant awarded to the neighborhood association in June 2005.

The 6,300-square-foot HispanicCenter is a touchstone for Hispanic families in the community. It specializes in educational programs such as English as a second language, cultural competency training for companies and organizations, English immersion computer classes for adults, and interpretation and translation classes, among others.

The HispanicCenter board hired Bazzani & Associates to renovate Engine House No. 12. Bazzani architect Nate Gillette said the structure and its foundation were in good shape, but the building had to be stripped down to its shell because everything inside was well beyond its useful lifespan. It was obvious, too, he said, that energy efficiency was not a high priority when the firehouse was originally built in 1913.

"One of the biggest challenges was the age of the structure and what we had to do to incorporate our sustainability goals and to retrofit it for modern accessibility," Gillette remarked.

Bazzani & Associates got started on the project around March last year and designed the entire building to be energy efficient. The firm replaced mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, adding low-flow water fixtures, energy-efficient lighting and energy-saving mechanical equipment. The architects used low volatile organic compound (VOC) paints, carpeting and caulk for improved indoor air quality, and also installed energy recovery ventilators so heated and cooled air wouldn't seep to the outdoors. The building is expected to receive either Silver or Gold LEED certification.

The building previously didn't have an elevator, so one was added for handicap accessibility to the second floor. A large section of the second floor had been used as a hayloft in the days when fire wagons were pulled by horses, so that section was reframed and leveled. The first floor consists of administrative and staff offices and the second floor is one large assembly area that can be segmented into meeting room or classroom spaces as needed.

The property sports five rain gardens that absorb all the storm-water runoff on the site. It's the second "zero storm-water runoff" site in the community, the first being the EastHillsCenter (of the Universe) on

Lake Drive
, which Bazzani & Associates also designed.

"All the storm water that falls on those sites is handled by the rain gardens. They have no connection to the city storm sewer," Gillette noted.

The HispanicCenter's move back into its former digs was a win-win for Clinica Santa Maria, as well, Angelo noted. The clinic does a booming business and has so many patients that it really needed the space the HispanicCenter had been occupying, she said.

Emily Alemán, executive director of the HispanicCenter, said the center had a "huge" turnout for its Dec. 8 open house.

"I think people were really impressed just by the fact that it was a lot different; it's a much larger size and it's more energy efficient," Alemán said. "We're going to be able to increase our programming because of the size."    

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