College renovating building for product design program


A partial rendering of Central Kohrman Hall. Courtesy WMU

A college in the region is renovating one of its buildings to create a home for its product design program.

Western Michigan University began demolition and construction activities in December to renovate the first and third floors of Central Kohrman Hall.

Scheduled to open in fall 2018, the renovated spaces will also serve as a base where key southwest Michigan corporate partners can find answers to their product design and talent development needs.

The project will involve some noticeable improvements: renovation of about 28,000 square feet of available space on the first and third floors; and minor renovations on the second floor, along with the addition of a mechanical room and gender-neutral restrooms.

Michael Elwell, associate professor of art and director of the WMU product design program, which has been offered since fall 2017, said Central Kohrman's renovated third floor will contain student studio areas, while the first floor will include administrative offices, presentation spaces and workshops outfitted with fabrication tools and equipment.

"Our studios, presentation spaces and laboratories will be dedicated to innovation, fabrication, rapid prototyping, 3D printing and woodworking and metalworking," Elwell said. "Much like the product design program itself, which seeks to fuel local industry with bright, innovative talent, the Central Kohrman Hall upgrade involves input from numerous southwest Michigan firms."

The Portage-based commercial construction company AVB, Inc. is managing the project, while more than a dozen area subcontractors are contributing to the effort, with a goal of achieving a LEED Silver certification.

The product design program was in development for nearly three years before being announced in late 2016 in conjunction with a leadership gift of $3 million from James and Lois Richmond.

Bob Brown and the Monroe-Brown Foundation also provided key initial funding, and the group of regional companies known as MIX Southwest Michigan has been actively involved as well.

Daniel Guyette, dean of the WMU College of Fine Arts, said the orientation will benefit businesses as well as students.

"Kalamazoo and the surrounding area is a hotbed of design and manufacturing activity,” Guyette said. “Local corporations are in constant need of professionals to contribute forward-thinking products, systems and solutions.”

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