TowerPinkster HiredTo Review Ex-Museum

March 24, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The prospect of Ferris State University’s Kendall College of Art & Design taking over the former Grand Rapids Art Museum was warmly received several weeks ago by a group of local leaders.

The college has retained TowerPinkster, an engineering and architecture firm with offices in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo, to determine the work that needs to be done to turn the building, also previously used as the Federal Building, into an educational facility, said Kendall President Oliver H. Evans.

David Frey, one of the leaders of the Grand Action Committee, said Evans and FSU Board of Trustees Chairman James K. Haveman Jr. updated the group several weeks ago. Grand Action, with a roster of 250 community leaders, was the driving force for such major downtown projects as the Van Andel Area and the DeVos Place Convention Center.

The concept was warmly received at the Grand Action meeting, Frey said.

“We think it’s a very exciting project, but there’s a lot of work to be done before it crystallizes,” he said.

Evans said he and Michael J. Hughes, FSU associate vice president for physical plant, had been meeting with TowerPinkster representatives, bringing in Kendall staff as needed to address specific areas.

“At the moment, we are continuing the process of developing detailed plans relative to what would be involved in renovating that building,” Evans said.

Mary McCormick, TowerPinkster marketing and media relations coordinator, said architects and engineers are involved in this early stage of planning.

“Engineers are always involved to assess systems when you’re putting together construction cost estimates: what’s going to be able to be reused, what needs to be replaced, what condition it’s in,” McCormick said.

“What we’re working on is just in the initial stages,” she added. “We’ll sit down with the client and verify what they want the space to be used for and what changes need to be done to accommodate this use. There’s the historical element, as well. It’s an exciting project.”

The FSU Board of Trustees has yet to vote on whether to accept responsibility for the 98-year-old neoclassical Beaux Arts building at 155 N. Division Ave., across the street from Kendall’s facility. The building is owned by the city of Grand Rapids. FSU spokeswoman Leah Nixon said July would be the earliest scheduled meeting at which the trustees may consider it.

Previously, Evans said the former art museum could house functional art, sculpture, art history and a new master’s of architecture program, and might host public events such as lectures.

Kendall has about 1,100 students enrolled this school year in its 140,000-square-foot, two-building facility at 17 Fountain St. NW.

The idea of Kendall taking over the former museum has been floating around for about five years.

“It’s a big project, a very bold project,” Frey said. “Then they have to raise the money. The university would have to commit some capital to this project. It’s going to be a pretty significant amount.”

Grand Action Executive Director Jon Nunn said the 16-member executive board liked the idea of Kendall as another “major anchor” downtown.

“I think it was positive and supportive. There were some questions given in terms of the next step with moving forward,” Nunn said. “They left it that they would just get back to us and provide us more information. They were not there to ask for Grand Action participation.”

The Grand Rapids Art Museum occupied the building from 1980 until its move last fall into a $50 million structure at 101 Monroe Center NW. Prior to that, the building was a post office, courthouse and jail.

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