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Final East Hall Plans

3/27 | New Projects

KALAMAZOO, MI – When the renovation of East Hall begins in May, construction materials will include a lot less glass and a lot more brick.

That's according to the final plans for the $21 million redesign of WMU's birthplace, which were released Tuesday afternoon by Western Michigan University and TowerPinkster, the Kalamazoo-based architecture firm leading the project.

The historic building, which most recently had housed the university's archives, will be transformed into an alumni center. The project is scheduled to be completed by June 2015. East Hall's exterior, original portico, cupola, three arched windows and existing staircase will be retained, according to the plans.

"I think the original concept we put out maybe checked all the boxes needed" for the redesign of a historic building, said Jason Novotny, director of design for TowerPinkster, after the meeting. But "it didn't do it in as sensitive a way as we're doing now."

The biggest changes to the plans are the materials and detailing intended for two additions, which will house the elevators and stairways needed to bring the building up to code, explained Bjorn Green, principal of TowerPinkster. Those now include more brick and stonework, rather than the glass called for in a design released in January. (A majority of attendees at the earlier meeting voted against the glass additions.)

The additions now carry through, in a simpler, less elaborate form, the design of the original building, Novotny said. Glass will still be used where the additions meet the original East Hall, so the modern portions are clearly delineated.

The new plan will "tie the building more closely together," Green said.

At the meeting, some of the more vocal critics of the earlier design gave the new plans high marks – saying that they felt that the architects had heard their concerns.

"I'd like to thank the architects for paying attention to the public comments," said David Brose, chairman of Friends of Historic East Campus.

Thomas Coyne, of Kalamazoo, former vice president for Student Services and a critic of the earlier design, also called the changes "quite commendable."

Brose, who specified that he was speaking only for himself and not the group, said afterward that he was pleased that more architectural touches from the original building had been incorporated into the design, singling out the brick pilasters and the stone water table.

"It looks a lot better," he said, adding that he thought the new design was an example of "sympathetic redevelopment" -- respecting the original without trying to make the additions look like part of the historic building.

The building is tracking toward a LEED Platinum certification from the U.S Green Building Council in Washington, Novotny said.

If it attains that certification, it will be the first LEED Platinum building on Western's campus, said Pete Strazdas, associate vice president of facilities management at WMU.

"I think it's a powerful piece of the story," Strazdas said, adding that the planned renovations, such as the geothermal heating system, will extend the life of East Hall.

So far, the project has earned 82 points toward LEED Platinum, including for its geothermal heating system and for reusing materials salvaged from West Hall, the Speech and Hearing Building and North Hall, Novotny said.

Right now, there appears to be enough brick from the south wing of East Hall to clad both additions, said Cheryl Roland, executive director of university relations for WMU. That had been another suggestion made by attendees at the January meeting.

Novotny said TowerPinkster is looking to locally source as much of the building materials as possible.

Inside, the library, which will seat 30 to 40 people, will house North Hall's marble fireplace and will feature wooden beams in a style reminiscent to the south wing, Novotny explained. The ballroom, which can hold 160 to 180 people, will retain the original plaster ceiling. There also will be a cafe, a board room that can seat 44 and a history wall that will tell the story of Western. The office of development and alumni relations will be housed on the ground floor.

The details of the history wall are still being worked out said Bob Miller, associate vice president of community outreach. But there will be a place for comments and for people to share their stories about East Hall and WMU at mywmu.com/alumnicenter.

"If I think East Hall is sacred space -- and I do -- the way to capture that is through storytelling," said Jim Thomas, vice president of development and alumni relations.

TowerPinskter has worked with WMU's landscaping services to identify the healthiest, most high-value trees atop Prospect Hill, Novotny said in answer to a student question. The firm is redesigning the walkways to ensure one of the most important specimens isn't touched.

There are trees slated to come down in front of the portico of East Hall, in order to open up the view toward downtown Kalamazoo. But these are non-native, invasive species, Novotny said.

As detailed in January, the façade of North Hall will remain. That has been expanded up to the roof line and will include all the stonework on the front of the building, Novotny said.

The demolition of East Hall's wings and the portion of North Hall that is not being saved should begin sometime this spring, Roland said. A starting date has not yet been set.

MLive. March 25, 2014. Original article.