No place like home for GR Foundation

April 13, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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Plenty of sunlight and the occasional sounds of children are new elements in the 104-year-old historic building that has been reborn as a state-of-the-art office building — and the new home of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

The kids and sunlight are probably reflections of the reason the foundation was just named one of the 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For in West Michigan, by the Michigan Business and Professional Association.

The 86-year-old foundation, which had been leasing quarters in downtown Grand Rapids for many years, announced in late 2007 that it was going to buy the Anheuser-Busch Icehouse building on the corner of Grandville Avenue and Oakes Street on the southwest side of the city core. In November, the 23-person staff moved into their new offices.

Lots of access for sunlight into the interior and a comfortable room where staff members' kids can spend the day when necessary were suggestions from the staff.

Diana R. Sieger, foundation president, said the staff is "a very committed group of people. They are very good about telling us what they want — which is a good thing."

The renovation of the building — "actually three buildings," said Sieger — wasn't easy. The building has two floors but the floor levels don't match where the three buildings meet.

The renovated building is 19,000 square feet, but only about 17,000 square feet are actually usable, according to Sieger.

The Anheuser-Busch Icehouse dates to about 1905. One part of the original structure was a stable and hayloft for draft horses; the middle part was a loading dock and icehouse where beer was stored for distribution in West Michigan; and the third part always was an office building, said Sieger.

The eagle on the Anheuser-Busch logo, in terracotta tile, can still be seen high on the building, but the horses and beer are long gone. The building was previously owned by a chemical company that operated there for more than 40 years. GRCF purchased the building for $2.4 million from developers Sam Cummings and Eric Wynsma, who had done extensive renovations, including a new roof and windows.

Fryling Construction Co. was the general contractor on the project; Design Plus was the architect.

Sieger said there are about 20 offices, plus open work areas to accommodate a similar number of workstations. Only two of the offices are not occupied: Sieger said when the economy improves enough to allow hiring, they will be used. The building was "reconstructed with the future in mind," she said.

When renovation began, the staff was asked to come up with "wish lists" for what they wanted in the building. The wish lists were given to the architects, who figured out what the cost of each suggestion would be and reported back on what was feasible and what wasn't.

"One thing that all staff wanted was access to a lot of light, meaning natural light," said Sieger. "As we were designing where people would be sitting in the building, including those more in the open areas, we had workstations installed in such a way as to take advantage of that natural light."

Involving the entire staff in making plans for the new interior of their future home was "not a chaotic process," said Sieger. Ideas were exchanged at monthly staff meetings, and everyone was given a hard hat and told they could visit the job site while work was in progress, to see how it was shaping up.

Another idea that everybody liked was the suggestion for "what we call our kids room or our quiet room," said Sieger, "because we are a very family-friendly office."

When something unexpected disrupts a family's routine, such as a snow day that closes the schools, the staff member's children can come along to work that day. The quiet room is outfitted with a television, computer and comfortable furniture where the kids can relax and read or play games.

Kids who are a little older can help the foundation, stuffing envelopes or sorting files or other basic tasks.

"One day there were five kids in the office," during a snow storm this past winter, noted Roberta King, the foundation's vice president of public relations and marketing.

The foundation will be seeking LEED certification for the renovated building, said Sieger. She said when the GRCF grants funds for construction or renovation by a not-for-profit organization, they always request that the project be designed to qualify for LEED certification.

The new home of the GRCF also reflects behavior by the staff that is respectful toward the environment, said Sieger. Behavior that reduces pollution and use of non-renewable resources is another major aspect of the LEED philosophy.

"We are recycling everything we can get our hands on," she said, including paper, plastics, cardboard, glass and more. "We have very little trash anymore," she said.

The foundation created a TransPoints Program, which provides small rewards to staff members who car pool to and from work and meetings, or walk to lunch or use public transportation.

The GRCF journey from the Waters Building downtown to what the staff now calls the SOVAA neighborhood (South of Van Andel Arena) began when longtime donors Tom and Mickie Fox first floated the idea of a GRFC building nearly 10 years ago. Then they sweetened the pot with a generous lead gift of $1 million, according to Sieger.

The total project cost came to $5.8 million. The first $4.5 million for buying and renovating the building came from new market tax credits, lead gifts from donors, in-kind gifts, contributions from every Community Foundation Trustee and staff member, and the Fund for Community Foundation Good.

At the dedication of the new GRCF home in November, Board of Trustees vice chair Cecile Cave Fehsenfeld noted that the campaign to fund the new building was almost finished.

"Even during a turbulent economy, we are pleased to announce that, with diligent work, we have raised $5.6 million," said Fehsenfeld in November.

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