Nonprofit converts historic seminary into senior living space

Samaritas will use Garfield Park structure as West Michigan headquarters.
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The former St. Joseph Seminary will contain 53 affordable living units for seniors and offer several services to the community. Courtesy Samaritas

After nearly a year of development, Samaritas has opened the Senior Affordable Living Community and West Michigan Child and Family Campus, located on the former grounds of the historic St. Joseph Seminary in Grand Rapids.

In addition to serving as the West Michigan headquarters for Samaritas, the state’s largest faith-based nonprofit organization, the facility at 600 Burton St. SE will offer essential services to a variety of vulnerable populations, including foster care, adoption, senior care, homeless, refugees and persons with disabilities.

The need for stable and secure housing continues to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with substance abuse and behavioral health challenges crippling families, the need for secure housing and services is greater now more than ever, Samaritas officials said. To meet these demands, Samaritas is introducing 53 affordable living units for seniors and expanded services for children and families through its newest location.

“We have created a space that allows us to best serve West Michigan through our wide range of services,” said Sam Beals, CEO of Samaritas. “While we continue to weather the coronavirus pandemic together, the past several months has shown us that vulnerable populations need the services Samaritas provides more than ever. We are grateful for the support we received from donors and partners in making the development of this facility a reality. We look forward to repaying that support by offering essential programs to those who need them most — helping to preserve and strengthen families across the region.”

The apartment units are for low-income residents ages 55 and older. The new offices also will feature integrated services, where refugees in Samaritas’ New Americans program can receive job training, placement assistance and housing support, as well as access to classes and mentors to help with learning English and facilitating cultural assimilation. The expanded programs also offer counseling, therapy and parenting classes for families.

The project’s contractor, Pinnacle Construction Group, was able to preserve much of the historic aesthetic of the seminary building, including the exterior brick and the stonework, many original doors, the stage, the chapel, the terrazzo floors and some of the interior masonry walls.

Community areas available to residents are a fitness center and fitness lounge, library, three laundry rooms and a café. Initially, residents will have limited or no access to these areas while COVID-19 cases spike back up across Michigan. All appropriate safety protocols will be followed throughout the facility.

Samaritas began discussions to acquire the seminary in 2018. The seminary, originally built in 1919 by the Catholic Diocese of Grand Rapids, was used as a boarding school until 1981 and then as the Diocesan offices until 2007, when the facility was sold to Lighthouse Full Life Center Church.

From 2013 to 2017, the building served as the Grand Rapids Ellington Academy of Arts and Technology, a K-12 charter school. The property was added to the National Register of Historic Places in September 2019.

“The St. Joseph Seminary building has been a staple of Grand Rapids’ Garfield Park neighborhood for a century,” Beals said. “We worked closely with area architects to uphold and maintain the building’s original construction, while breathing new life into it through critical updates to create a safe place for West Michigan children, families and seniors. We are proud to further root ourselves in the community and remain dedicated to helping those that call it home.”

The $18 million expansion was made possible by local donors, foundations and corporations, including the Cook Foundation, Thome Memorial Trust, Grand Rapids Community Foundation and many others.

Samaritas also won a $100,000 grant in early summer from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation to help fund the development, the Business Journal previously reported.

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