WMU readies Heritage Hall for grand re-opening

What once was East Hall has been renovated in a 16-month project and renamed Heritage Hall. The building will reopen to the public in a grand opening event at 2 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23. It  will be the home of the WMU Alumni Center.
The project was designed with two major themes. "The first was restoring the grandeur and legacy of Heritage Hall as the birthplace and touchstone of the University. In essence, we wanted to restore and enhance the original postcard view of 'the Acropolis of Kalamazoo' on Prospect Hill," says Bjorn Green, senior principal with Tower Pinkster.  "The second was a vision to transform the building from the least efficient building on campus to the most efficient building on campus, and pursue a LEED Platinum rating for the project."

The transformation of the now 53,000-square-foot facility from its old presence to the new could not be more dramatic, say those most closely involved in the effort. And it was not easy.

Matthew Brecker, project manager for the Christman Co., the construction firm that has been overseeing the transformation calls it the most difficult project he has worked on.

There was little in the way of original documentation for today's architects and construction firms to work with. The building was built  in 1905, just two years after the University was established, during a period of few building standards and code requirements. It was not square and did not meet even the most minimal of modern load-bearing requirements, Brecker says.

So it was quite a challenge to transform the interior into a building with such new features as conference rooms, a cafe and a ballroom that can accommodate 180 people.

Turning the campus' least-efficient building to the status of most efficient also was an enormous task. The building had no insulation, no central cooling and utilized campus steam for heating. A series of chimneys throughout the building functioned only to permit fresh air to circulate in the building. A significant part of the renovation included asbestos and lead abatement.

During the restoration of Heritage Hall, materials were salvaged from East Campus buildings and restored to be used during construction. Some of these items include marble from the North Hall Library stacks, which is used in countertops throughout the building; the fireplace from North Hall, which is installed in the 1903 Room; stage flooring from the East Hall gymnasium, used in the display case flooring; and much more. Other items are being reused in other campus building and remodeling efforts.

Source: Cheryl Roland, Western Michigan University
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