Steelcase Spruces Up

August 10, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — Now that most of the company’s manufacturing facilities are in Kentwood and Gaines Township, and because the firm has sold more than 200 acres of its main campus to Ashley Capital, Steelcase Inc. is remaking its property in the city to better reflect its current identity within the city.

Work has begun on a $17 million project that will integrate the Steelcase Global Headquarters building at

901 44th St. SE
with the nearby Learning and ExplorationCenter. At the same time, the office furniture designer and manufacturer is making major physical changes to portions of the longstanding corporate property.

“We want to re-establish our goals, identity and space, if you will, on the remaining campus, and create a new sense of campus,” said Jim Lawler, director of global facilities and real estate for Steelcase.

“It’s a combination of establishing a new campus for us, as well as having a centralized location for customer interactions,” he added.

Steelcase officials will conduct much of their customer interaction in a revived and larger LearningCenter. The idea behind the change is to make the center and headquarters one building, while keeping the primary purposes for both the same. A former manufacturing plant is the connector Steelcase is using to accomplish that goal.

“The new spaces that we are creating are really in what was the Systems 2 building. It was space that was manufacturing. We took an old manufacturing plant that was underutilized that we redeveloped and created this terrific space that we call the LearningCenter. We plan on doing the same thing with additional space in this building that will have more of a focus on sharing knowledge and information with customers,” said Lawler.

“We’re going to create this space that I would call a stage, a space that we can modify and change as we have a need to do that, to demonstrate our knowledge, services, capabilities and research results.”

The expansion will centralize those demonstrations and make it more time-efficient for company officials to meet with customers. Previously, clients had to be shuttled across the campus, and too much time was spent on traveling from one building to another.

The Systems 2 building is getting a new façade and that should be in place in November. The interiors of the center and the headquarters building are expected to be finished next June, and Steelcase will seek LEED certification for the interior work.

While this work is going on, environmental changes are also being made to the property. Lawler said Steelcase is creating areas on the site known as bioswales, which are landscaping elements designed to remove pollution from surface runoff water. A bioswale is built to maximize the length of time it can hold water, which helps keep pollutants and silt from reaching sewers.

“A bioswale is where we can run all the groundwater that is coming off the buildings or off the parking lots. We run it through an area where the water is being filtered and absorbed into the soils,” he said.

“So the amount of runoff that goes into the storm drains is reduced dramatically and what reaches the storm drains is cleaner.”

Steelcase is removing some roadway and parking spaces from the campus to create the bioswales, which Lawler said look more like wetlands than retention ponds. Major changes are also being made to the property’s vegetation. The headquarters building will retain its highly manicured appearance, but the company has a low-mow plan for the LearningCenter

“With the grasses and vegetation that we’re planting, it won’t require mowing on a weekly basis. It won’t require irrigation like we do today on the rest of the site. It won’t require fertilization, as well, to the extent that we fertilize today,” said Lawler.

“It won’t be like the CDC — the Pyramid — where we have a prairie. But it will be more of a longer grass, an overflowing grassy area that requires less maintenance. From the standpoint of ozone emission days, or water requirements, or fertilization of the soils, this will have much less of that, and that will be a positive from an environmental point of view.”

All the work on the property should be done by November. But Lawler said it could take a few years before the full effect will be noticeable.

Steelcase will also use the recycled asphalt from the roads and parking spaces it is taking out for the bioswales to add new spaces in other areas of the campus, and the company is installing a light membrane over the buildings’ roofs to reflect heat and keep the structures cooler.

Progressive AE designed the building and site work, and D&DBuilding is managing the work. City commissioners recently granted Steelcase a 12-year tax abatement for the project.    

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