Dwelling Place aims for LEED at Madison apartment complex

June 25, 2012
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Dwelling Place has restored the former Madison Square Apartments at 500 Hall St. SE into a Gold or Platinum Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design habitat. The project marks another point in the nonprofit’s mission to diminish urban blight.

“We think we’re on the edge to get it to Platinum,” said CEO Denny Sturtevant. “We know it’s going to be at least a Gold and we’re hoping to find the means to get it over the hump to get it to Platinum. Dwelling Place made a commitment eight years ago that every major construction project would be LEED certified. It makes good environmental sense.”

Geothermal energy will heat and cool the facility.

“We’re interested in experimenting with stuff like this to see how it cuts our cost,” said Sturtevant. “Everything about LEED is consistent with our mission in developing neighborhoods. Most people recognize what LEED means, and for us it’s just a visible way of saying the environment and sustainability are an important kind of housing we want to do.”

Renamed Reflections: A Senior Housing Community, the $14 million renovation that was dedicated May 23 includes the reconstruction of 60 one-bedroom apartments for seniors, of which 25 include a bonus room to accommodate live-in caregivers who assist residents. Apartment floor plans range from 546 to 855 square feet.

Additional amenities include significant increases in common spaces for meetings and social gatherings. All are near grocery stores, a health center and public transportation routes.

“We found seniors and other residents with high needs were pretty isolated and not really connected to health care and social services in the community,” said Sturtevant. “We decided to gut the entire inside and build additions and expand the sizes of some units to make room for caregivers and build some larger units. We added two additions to the building and increased the size of the apartments but kept them at 60 units.”

The complex also has an outdoor deck and a raised community garden so it’s accessible to people in wheelchairs or who have difficulty bending down, with an integrated rainwater recovery system.

“We redid the whole site plan and added some landscaping,” said Sturtevant. “We had an ArtPrize project a few years ago where the artists decorated bird houses, and we actually have commissioned them to build more bird houses for us — half-a-dozen of them. That’s along a landscaped gardening area so we can get a bit of decoration and nature back in there.”

Also commissioned was a stainless steel sculpture created by retired Calvin College art professor Edgar Boeve.

“Dwelling Place has a history of working closely with art … promoting art as a useful tool,” said Sturtevant. “We’re hopeful art instills a sense of pride in residents but is also a symbol of the positive change that’s happening in the Madison Square neighborhood. It’s about reconnecting neighborhoods.”

Constructed in the early 1980s, the former Madison Square Apartments was off to a rocky start soon after the last nail had been driven, according to Sturtevant.

“The quality of some of the construction in the early ’80s was not the best, necessarily,” said Sturtevant. “The units were pretty small and operated as affordable housing up until recently when (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) took it back. It had operating and management problems and security issues.”

When the property fell into foreclosure, MSHDA, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department and Grand Rapids city officials concluded it was still worth renovating into affordable housing. A handful of developers were invited to pitch their renewal ideas for not just the Madison Square Apartments complex but also an additional 73 townhouse apartments scattered throughout southeast Grand Rapids, of which the Inner City Christian Federation agreed to raze a majority and build new.

Dwelling Place owns 27 properties and about 1,200 apartments across West Michigan.

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