Finally, It's A Building

October 8, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — It’s been a longtime coming and Kent County officials are anxious for the day to arrive. On Oct. 29, the county will host a morning groundbreaking ceremony on the city’s southeast side for its new Human Services Complex.

“We’ve waited 20 years to do this,” said Roger Morgan, commission chairman.

Morgan said it was important for the county to have a presence in the neighborhood and be able to provide services to residents from the site at 121 Franklin St. SE. Kent officials discussed the project with residents for 18 months and gave them input into the final design.

“We think the building is beautiful. You should have seen the first one. It looked like 415 Franklin and we said ‘no’ to that,” said Beverly Drake, executive director of ACSET, an employment and training agency.

The address Drake referred to is the cramped and aging home of the state Department of Human Resources. DHS will join ACSET and the county’s Sheldon Health Clinic as the trio of tenants in the new Kent County Human Services Complex, a 137,000-square-foot, three-story structure scheduled to open June 1, 2009.

The new building will go up on the Sheldon Complex site. Demolition will get started in December and construction will get under way the following month. The project has been pegged at costing $27 million. Kent is financing the work with a municipal bond package that county commissioners approved last year. The bonds were sold this past spring.

Of the $27 million, $20.4 million will be spent on design and construction. Another $2.56 million went toward buying the land, and $1.72 million will be used for fixtures, furniture and equipment. Nearly $2.3 million will cover the costs of the 20-year bonds.

The annual debt service is expected to be $2.16 million. Most of that yearly payment — $1.7 million — will come from the state. Lansing signed a 20-year lease with two five-year options with the county and will rent about 80 percent of the building for its DHS office. Kent will pick up $252,400 of the payment; $191,000 will come from the city of Grand Rapids.

The city is as excited as the county about the project. DHS will transfer its employees from the Cascade Township office into the county’s human services building, and that will result in more income-tax revenue for the city — from $50,000 to $75,000 more each year.

“We think the county has done an excellent job of managing this project,” said Eric DeLong, deputy city manager.

The building site is actually three separate parcels. The county bought two, while the city bought one. Parking will be available behind the building and on the other side of Franklin Street.

County commissioners selected Design Plus in February as the project’s architect. The local firm submitted the lowest bid of $970,000, about $300,000 less than the next lowest bidder. Design Plus Principal Craig Nicely said the building would seek LEED certification and was designed to minimize heat loss and maximize heat gain. He said recycled building materials would be used, and as much construction waste as possible would be recycled.

The building will stop short of having a garden on the roof, but will have a white, reflective rooftop that will cover 43,000 square feet. It will also have an energy management system to keep tabs on utility use.

“It’s a very important component of our sustainability effort,” said Robert Mihos, county facilities management director, of the desire to go with a LEED-seeking project.

Commissioner David Morren said the building design looks very contemporary. Commissioner Dean Agee, though, said the structure has too much of an industrial look for a building that will provide human services. But Nicely said the glass, the landscaping and the color of the building will soften the look. Mihos added that the interior colors would do the same.

“At the same time, it is a large urban building that we need to provide services from,” said Mihos.

The Christman Co. will manage the construction project. Christman was the lowest bidder at just under $1 million, outbidding four other management firms for the project. Mihos said Christman, which commissioners chose in May to manage the project, will solicit bids for the subcontracting work.

Why the county has waited two decades to start work on the human services complex is directly related to how long it has waited for the state to agree to move its DHS office from its current location. The county got then state Rep. Jerry Kooiman to intervene on its behalf last year with the state Department of Management and Budget to get a lease deal done. The county also threatened last year to sell 415 Franklin St. to the highest bidder and leave the state with a new landlord.

“We’re serious about getting the building built. We’re serious about moving forward. And we’re serious about disposing of this property,” said Commission Vice Chairman Richard Vander Molen a year ago.

The state signed the lease agreement this summer and the city approved the site plan in July.

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