FSU Weighs Ex-Art Museum Plans

August 20, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — The artwork is gone, the furniture has been moved, and the former home of the Grand Rapids Art Museum — once the city’s federal post office and courthouse — is undergoing scrutiny for yet another transformation.

Ferris State University is reviewing whether it can raise money to remodel the space for its Kendall College of Art and Design, said Kendall President Oliver H. Evans. He said the FSU board of trustees may make a decision this fall.

Evans said he’d be delighted to utilize the 98-year-old, city-owned building for his college, which expects record enrollment of more than 1,100 when classes get under way later this month. He anticipates the neoclassical Beaux Arts building at 155 N. Division Ave. would house functional art, sculpture and art history programs, plus a new master’s of architecture program. He said the building also would allow Kendall to host more public events such as lectures.

Some remodeling would need to occur to accommodate those uses — for example, to meet building codes for educational use. But he said the building is otherwise in excellent condition, down to the old jail cells that contained accused criminals prior to their court appearances in the early 20th century. The Grand Rapids Art Museum occupied it since 1980 until its move this year to a new $50 million structure at 101 Monroe Center NW. The new, 125,000-square-foot museum has a grand opening scheduled for Oct. 5.

But Evans noted that it’s been nearly five years since the idea of Kendall taking over the art museum building first surfaced.

“A lot of things happened in that amount of time,” he said. Among them: turnover on the FSU board of trustees; Michigan’s economic downturn and its subsequent damage to higher education’s tax-based support; and due diligence to get a clear picture of the consequences of taking over the building.

Now the board is undertaking a “really good study of that building and the level of potential support among the community for the building,” Evans said. “We hope to have the results of that study by late September or early October. The real question is what would be the level of potential support in the community.”

Evans said it is possible that remodeling could be covered by a combination of fundraising and FSU funding, but the pressure placed on the university by the ever-shifting state budget makes that difficult to predict. Kendall’s current location is actually two buildings of about 140,000 square feet that are slowly being connected, floor by floor.

He said a proposal floated in 2004 to close the section of Pearl Street NW between the current Kendall location at 17 Fountain St. NW and the former art museum to create a more campus-like connection has been set aside. However, Evans reiterated Kendall’s strong commitment to downtown Grand Rapids and said he’d like to see expansion of student housing nearby. About 122 students are assigned to live at 5 Lyon St. NW, which is not owned by Kendall but is marketed exclusively to Kendall students, Evans said. He said it’s proven to be popular enough among students that more student housing may be warranted.

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