Davenport Building More Than Education

August 6, 2007
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CALEDONIA TOWNSHIP — Davenport University has quietly begun moving dirt on the school’s W.A. Lettinga Campus to make room for a new student center and field house.

President Randolph Flechsig said the school is saving its official unwrapping of what may be the final piece of the two-year-old campus for this fall. A formal celebration marking the groundbreaking will take place in the very near future after students return to the Kraft Avenue campus in Caledonia Township.

The student center and field house will be housed in a single 85,000-square-foot building that should be ready in a year. The Panthers’ men’s and women’s basketball teams and the women’s volleyball team will call the 1,500-seat field house home. The student center, as the name implies, will be the primary meeting place for students.

“They can go there to relax and congregate. All of our student-life activities and clubs will be based there and then we’ll have recreation areas there. We’ll also have what we call our auxiliary gym, where students can play virtually anything but ice hockey. They can play roller hockey and indoor soccer off the main floor,” said Flechsig.

Some might think a student center and field house aren’t important parts of a university, at least not as important as, say, a library and computer lab, and they might be correct. But the significance to Davenport is that both indicate it has become a university that can offer its students a clear-cut lifestyle that can’t be found on a commuter campus.

“We needed a place where students, alumni and the community can congregate, and this is sort of a lynchpin,” said Flechsig. “We’ve always put our academics before anything else, but this is a lynchpin that makes us a university where students will come and live and have a quality of life that we think of as a traditional university quality of life for living on campus.”

The student center and field house may not be the last addition to the 43-acre Lettinga site, as more student housing may be built someday if the on-campus enrollment grows.

The Peter C. and Pat Cook Residence Hall, a 36,000-square-foot building with two dozen apartment-style living units, was built in the first phase of construction and opened two years ago. Additional student housing went up in the second phase and was recently completed.

“We have two buildings with 200 students, and our long-range plan calls for additional space. I’d like to see that. Given the level of interest of students wanting to live on campus, that would probably be our next project out there,” said Flechsig.

The four-story, 140,000-square-foot Richard M. DeVos and Jay Van Andel Academic Center was the cornerstone project of the first phase. The center houses classrooms and the Margaret D. Sneden Library and Technology Center, and can comfortably accommodate up to 2,400 students at a time.

The Academic Center and Residence Hall were recently LEED certified. Davenport has also captured the same certification for the student housing that was built in the second phase.

“The difference between the Davenport student housing units and typical multi-unit housing or dormitories is very obvious. Everything here has been integrated into the larger system, as opposed to having several independent systems working together,” said Debra Sypien, LEED administrator for Rockford Construction.

“This approach creates a true sense of sustainability. Each element from the paint to the windows to stormwater collection systems contribute to the LEED certification,” she added.

Rockford is managing the construction of the student center and field house, which was designed by Michael Corby of Integrated Architecture. Flechsig said the university would also request LEED designation for that building.

“Our general philosophy involves two things. One, that we maintain green space so it’s not building upon building. The other thing is that all of our buildings be LEED certified. The numbers work. LEED certification is an investment, but over the life of a building it has a rate of return that is favorable, and it’s a more efficient use of air and light. We’re committed to doing that to any new building we put on the campus,” said Flechsig.

Once the Lettinga campus construction is done, the university will have to begin thinking about leaving its downtown campus. Flechsig said there aren’t any concrete plans to sell the site. But he said he has begun investigating what would be the best alternative use for the property along East Fulton Street, and he added that probe could take a few years to complete.

“Someday we will leave Fulton Street; I can’t say when. Because of the logistics, it will take a while to get us off the site, even if it were to be purchased,” he said. “A sale will transition seamlessly, I’d like to believe. The next user will be as good of a neighbor as we have been all these years.”

Even after Davenport vacates the Fulton campus, Flechsig said the university will maintain a presence downtown. The school’s academic programs will make sure that happens.

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