WMU designs $15M alumni center with TowerPinkster


A rendering of one of WMU’s renovated East Hall buildings as the alumni center. Courtesy WMU

By 2015, Western Michigan University is hoping to have a new home for Bronco alumni.

WMU recently announced TowerPinkster — an architectural and engineering firm that has a longtime relationship with the university — will develop plans to turn WMU’s 34,000-square-foot, three-story East Hall into a $15-million Alumni Center.

WMU's birthplace

The East Hall, originally completed in Kalamazoo in 1905, was the first building ever created for WMU, said David Dakin, director of planning for WMU’s Facilities Management Department — making it, in a way, the university’s birthplace.

The building has generally remained vacant for years, he said, with the exception of the north wing, where the university archives are stored.

The $15 million, which university officials said is a ballpark figure of what WMU is putting into the project, will renovate the building inside and out, as well provide for landscaping and parking work, Dakin said.

Historic design

“The outside will look pretty much the way it did when it was originally built. Inside, we want the main rooms and corridors to resemble what they originally did, but the offices will resemble modern places,” he said. “We also want images and graphics intertwined with the buildings, so it’ll tell the story of East Campus.”

The work, scheduled to begin immediately, will be led by TowerPinkster principal Bjorn Green. The firm has offices in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo.

Gene Hopkins, owner of Ann Arbor-based Hopkins Burns Design Studio, will work on design.

During his 32 years in the industry, Hopkins has overseen projects in national landmarks like the Grand Hotel, Fort Mackinac, the Michigan State Capitol and Fort Wayne.

East Hall earned National Historic Landmark status in 1978.

“As a local firm, we understand the rich history of Western Michigan University and the story of its founding,” Green said. “This unique project will celebrate the historic significance and grandeur of East Hall and what it symbolizes for both the Kalamazoo and WMU communities. We’re honored to be a part of this effort.”

TowerPinkster, which has been in business for over 60 years, has completed many WMU projects, including the renovation of the Lee Honors College and the Office for Sustainability.

In the past, TowerPinkster also was involved in such major WMU projects as the Gilmore Theatre Complex and the College of Aviation facilities in Battle Creek.

“We're extraordinarily pleased that TowerPinkster will be working with us,” Dakin said. “Bjorn Green knows this building inside and out, so he'll be able to hit the ground running. His firm is part of the fabric of this community, and its record in the historic preservation arena is first rate.”

East Campus demolition

In addition to the East Campus’ new Alumni Center, WMU is also planning for East Campus demolition.

WMU’s North Hall, West Hall and Speech and Hearing Center will all be coming down, said Cheryl Roland, WMU executive director of University Relations.

The buildings have been vacant for years, she said, and university consultants have advised their demise. The buildings will be gone by fall, Roland expects.

The East Hall, however, is a landmark, she said, and the university has a duty to preserve it. 

“A lot of them are in need of a lot of work," Dakin said. "Even if you renovated them to original stature, they wouldn’t be functionally usable for the way higher education conducts itself in classes these days."

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