Construction, Real Estate, and Sustainability

Electrical firm moves into abandoned elementary school

November 13, 2014
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Electrical firm moves into abandoned elementary school
The electrical firm Feyen Zylstra is based at the old Fairview Elementary School in Walker. Courtesy Feyen Zylstra

In hallways that once echoed with elementary school children’s laughter, a growing electrical firm has found a home.

The electrical firm Feyen Zylstra said last week that it has renovated and re-purposed the former Fairview Elementary School in Walker, which closed in 2010, into its headquarters, at 2396 Hillside Dr. NW.

The firm, which specializes in industrial and institutional electrical projects, bought the property from the Kenowa Hills Public School District in 2013 and recently finished renovations.

The space will now house 80 employees and consolidate Feyen Zylstra’s former Grand Rapids locations, at 700 Butterworth St. SW and 210 Front Ave. SW.

The Butterworth Street location was sold to The Rapid and the Front Avenue location to Voice Data Systems.

The firm plans to host an official opening ceremony for its headquarters on Dec. 4, from 4-8 p.m.

“Opportunity” to re-purpose

Schools tend to be the centers of neighborhoods, and when they leave, neighborhoods follow, meaning the project was a “tremendous opportunity” for the firm and the community, said Nate Koetje, CEO, Feyen Zylstra.

“This relocation gave us a chance to do good for the West Michigan community, the Hillside neighborhood and Feyen Zylstra. Everyone wins,” Koetje said. “Business plays a key role in the development of great communities. We saw this project as one very tangible way we could continue Feyen Zylstra’s history of community involvement.”

The building

The task to transform the now 44,000-square-foot Fairview Elementary into a proper place of business for the firm was not simple.

The project featured reusing the bleacher wood and gymnasium floor in new walls, fixtures, conference tables and collaborations tables.

The wood grain “really complemented our interior plan, and it warmed up our space,” Koetje said.

The project also added windows and other exterior updates to the building.

The gymnasium space was expanded by 8,000 square feet and has been transformed into Feyen Zylstra’s warehouse.

The only item that remains from the gym’s elementary school glory days is the basketball hoops, which Koetje admitted is more of a gift to the staff than anything else.

“Well, part of keeping them there was as a tribute to what the school was and as a bit of novelty,” he laughed. “Yeah, we may have used them.”

Koetje said many newcomers who’ve walked through the space hardly recognize that it was ever a school.


Progressive AE in Grand Rapids designed the project, and Erhardt Construction in Ada served as the project’s contractor, with Feyen Zylstra naturally pitching in some of the electrical work.

Graduating to growth

There’s also plenty of room for the firm to grow.

Feyen Zylstra, founded in 1980, has about 330 employees spread throughout its offices at the former school, as well as in Traverse City and Nashville, Tenn.

“Our business is twice the size of what it was in 2009, and we’re anticipating continuing to grow as we look out over the next three years,” Koetje said.

“I’d imagined we’d be 350 in the next year or so, and certainly the move was pushing that. We ran out of space downtown.” 

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