The Seminary Building- A PROGRES REPORT

[Editor’s Note: The following article was ready for publication a couple months ago, but was held up due to a legal snarl in connection with the site-acquisition. The latter, we are informed, has now been cleared up; and the green light was given for publication. With two exceptions, the information is substantially correct. The exceptions are: 1) The target date for ground-breaking necessarily has had to be postponed. 2) The treasurer, Mr. Teitsma, informs me that the drive has now brought in a total (in round numbers) of $92,000.00, of which $55,000.00 is cash on hand. The big question now will be that of the detailed cost estimates and what inflation may have done to them.]

Friday evening, January 19, 1973, the Theological School Committee approved the proposed plans of the “Blue Ribbon” Committee for the new seminary building, and instructed that committee to proceed with preparing of blueprints and obtaining cost estimates. I hardly exaggerate when I state that our committee and the “Blue Ribbon” Committee were highly enthusiastic concerning the proposed plans. 

But I had better back up a bit in the recounting of events. The last report identified the proposed site for the seminary building as west of Ivanrest, S.W., just south of the Grandville city limits. The committee purchased ten acres of land there for $13,500. They were compelled to purchase this amount of land in order to obtain the beautiful knoll they desired, and the necessary roadway leading to this knoll. The price, however, is higher than that laid down as guideline by our last Synod (“approximately $10,000). The committee, therefore, expects soon to dispose of about two acres of this in order to stay near Synod’s guideline.

Building Plans 

The next important action of the “Blue Ribbon” Committee was to hire an architect to prepare plans for building. The services of such an architect are required in order to obtain a building permit not only, but also to prepare plans for a building which would be both functional yet adapted to fit the proposed site. 

The “Blue Ribbon” Committee gave him his instructions: a building to cost no more than $100,000, yet contain the rooms and approximate square foot area approved by Synod in 1972. The architect was; frankly, skeptical that this would be possible. After all, that meant that the building would cost only slightly more per square foot than a house of similar size—yet conform with the many regulations which the fire marshal1 of the state of Michigan must enforce for all school buildings. Most schools do cost about twice our proposed amount per square foot. After much thought and work, the architect proposed the plan portrayed which meets the requirements of size we suggested and (hopefully) the requirements of cost. He cleverly suggested various methods to cut costs without sacrificing quality—yet meet the fire marshall’s requirements. 

We could point out several things concerning the proposed plans. First, the plan is designed for the site. This explains its particular shape. It is not simply rectangular, but its shape is to fit the contours of the knoll on which it is erected. 

Secondly, the classrooms and the all-purpose room face north. The windows run the entire width of the north wall. This design was for several reasons: so that there would be no difficulty with sunlight shining into these rooms, to take full advantage of the very lovely view to the north of the school, as well as to give a sense of spaciousness to the relatively small classrooms. 

Thirdly, we believe the number of rooms and their approximate size-are in harmony with Synod’s decision last summer. It is true .that one could get by with less rooms and smaller ones: (We could also, as families, live in a one or two room house.) However, we believe, that, considering the needs of our seminary and the time of affluence in which we .live, the proposed plan is neither unreasonable nor excessive. We propose three classrooms (none of which is overly large). We propose a library which will be the focal-point of the building, with adequate space for present and future books, and a place for students to study. We propose an all-purpose room for practice-preaching for our other school meetings, and perhaps (though incidentally) an adequate meeting place for Synod (or Classis) when it convenes in Grand Rapids. The faculty office provides a place for quiet study and meditation for the professors, and for conferences. The office provides place for typist, for keeping of records, for reception of visitors, etc. The workroom gives the necessary space for mimeographing and assembling of notes, for preparing the Theological Journal, and such sort of activities. The kitchen is, perhaps, a luxury; but it makes possible a fuller use of the all-purpose room. Lunch can be served; dinners prepared (for Synod, Classis, etc.). 

As far as construction is concerned, the building will be one story erected on cement slab. The structure will be wood-frame with brick facing (this will save considerable expense over cement block and steel construction). The wood-frame structure and the fact that there are no interior halls make necessary in each room the exits directly to the outside. The interior will be carpeted with exception of the kitchen, entrance, restroom, and metianical areas. 

There are a few unique (and perhaps controversial) features to the building. There is first the fact that the library is the focal-point of the building, and is, in effect, the “hall-way” to all the other rooms. In this way the architect utilized in the best possible way the available space. He suggests that the traffic through this library is minimal and not distracting (especially because the area is to be carpeted), and that the library will assume its proper place of importance and centrality in this sort of building. 

A second feature are the “clerestories” (pronounced: clear stories). These are what appear to be the “second story” in the line drawing. These are nothing more than windows toward the north which will admit light directly into the library and all-purpose room from above. From the top of these “second story” windows, there is a roof which slopes down to the main roof. Perhaps this feature could be considered a luxury. Our committee did have questions about this part of the plan. There was not only the question of cost, but also the question of appearance from the outside, of the building. The architect, however, convincingly argued for retaining these. He insisted that they were an intregal part of the whole design of the building. These, in a sense, could be considered symbolic. They suggest the reaching forth to light (“In Thy Light shall we see light.”). But also these windows would admit a very warm and natural light into the library (which has no windows to the outside) and into the all-purpose room. These will break the ceiling line within the rooms and provide a sense of spaciousness, and height as well as supplying light. This sort of lighting can not be duplicated by artificial lights nor even by ordinary skylights. These will increase heating costs, but not significantly so. We think, after all factors are considered, that this will be an unusual yet useful part of the building. 

A third feature (about which the committee still has reservations) is the “open classroom” concept. You notice on the proposed plans that the classrooms have no interior doors—in fact, one-half of one wall facing the library is simply not there. The rooms remain open directly into the library. The architect insists that this has been successfully used in many of the newer school buildings. The purpose is to give a sense of unity or oneness throughout the building. Besides, it enhances the appearance of each classroom in that it adds a feeling of spaciousness to what are actually small rooms. The architect insists that it really works. The carpeting and arrangement of stacks of books will prevent sound from one classroom from distracting either those in another classroom or in the library. (We are intending to check the Rockford, Michigan Junior High School where this concept is used.) The idea, we think, is striking—provided it will work out in practice.

Perhaps the above is enough for you to think about now. Your questions are likely not all answered. If you have some concerning which you would want answers, we would be happy to try to provide these. At any rate, you now do see why we on both the Theological School Committee and; on the “Blue-Ribbon” Committee are very enthused. We think that this truly represents a building both functional and beautiful which can, as it were; serve as a focal-point for our whole denomination; a building of which we may properly be proud. We hope you consider it such too. 

The cost of building 

The total cost of building is a thing which constantly confronts the committee. Synod of 1972 did approve (as I recall) a total cost of approximately $105,000; this was in harmony with the proposals of the Theological School Committee for a building of approximately $100,000, and land for $5,000. The committee desires to remain within those guidelines. The trouble is, several factors would indicate that conceivably the cost will be higher. First, the new property cost $13,500 (vs. the $5,000 for the Cambridge St. property). Secondly, we must add a well and septic system besides a longer drive and larger parking lot (the lot on Cambridge, upon which our original figures were based, was an improved lot with sewer and water). Thirdly, inflationary costs have been higher in the building trade than in other areas—consequently, a building erected in 1973 will cost considerably more than a similar one erected in 1972 (and likely a delay in building till beyond 1973 would add 3 to 5 percent or more per year in costs). The “Blue Ribbon” Committee has sought to keep costs down as much as possible. These presently plan to serve as their own contractors to save expense. They have been considering other ways also of cutting costs. 

The question, however, still remains: will we be able to keep below the guidelines which Synod set? The committee might well have to face the difficult decision: can we proceed with building? If it is necessary to go above the $105,000 Synod suggested, how much above this figure can the committee go—yet conscientiously believe that they are carrying out the intent and desire of our Synod? If we begin building, it would conceivably be soon—as soon as the weather warms and the ground can be broken. Pray for the committee also in this decision it must make, that it may be pleasing to our God for the benefit of the churches. 

Financial report 

One cause for great gratitude to the committee is the evidence of generous financial support which has been given by the members of the denomination. Our last report showed cash and pledges of $84,638.27. As of December 31, 1972, our treasurer reports a cash and pledge total of $88,611.97 (a gain of about $4,000). Not only have our own people shown great generosity in supporting this project, but individuals outside of our denomination have also contributed. We read at our last committee meeting the following letter from a member of another denomination (quoted in part): “Enclosed you will find a check for $100.00. Please apply this sum to your new Seminary building fund. We read of your building program through theStandard Bearer that we enjoy reading very much . . . We have become disillusioned with . . . seminary, and would rather contribute to your new Seminary building program, as we feel the Reformed witness will be more truly taught and honored by your faculty and students.” Isn’t that something! We sincerely give thanks to all those who have so faithfully and generously contributed. 

We would, however, so much like to report to our next Synod that the full amount of the drive has been raised, that the amount we need for our building has been contributed or pledged. We would urge those who have not yet pledged or contributed, to do so as soon as possible. We do wish that each member of the denomination will have a real part in helping to make this seminary building possible. A few personal suggestions might be in order. Not all can contribute a cash gift of $150.00. But perhaps one could put aside 10 cents a day (only the cost of a newspaper) for four years—and pledge that sum. Or one could pledge to send $2.00 per month for five years (thus, likely, this would be no financial burden at all). Young people ought to consider doing their share too. After all, this building will be used for the benefit of the church of tomorrow, for the church of your generation. Please, however, inform our treasurer as soon as possible of your pledge that this may be included in the total we report to the next Synod. 

There may be many, also, who would consider adding to their present pledges or gifts in order that the goal may be met. 

One other suggestion might be made. Some of our societies or individuals might wish to assume responsibility for raising the money and contributing toward the purchase of certain items in the building. We do not intend to identify the donors of special gifts to the new building or commemorate the gift by means of plaques. However, some might want the satisfaction of knowing specifically for what their contribution went. We have sufficient furnishings for approximately two classrooms. We need, yet, a desk, tables and chairs for another classroom; table for the workroom; folding tables and chairs for the all-purpose room; chairs and tables for the faculty lounge; and desk for the office; file cabinets; a good electric typewriter; a copy machine; perhaps a piano; or one might be willing to assume the cost of the landscaping or of the long drive and parking lot; we need, too, some bookcases, tables and chairs for the library. These are some of the possibilities. At any rate, when contributing or investigating concerning assuming responsibility for the costs of some aspect of this building or its furniture, write to our treasurer: Mr. R. Teitsma, 1659 Shangrai-La Dr., S.E., Grand Rapids, Michigan, 49508.

Again: thank you for your hearty support. We expect to keep you informed concerning further progress on this project. Perhaps the next report can begin: “We have begun building!” 

for the Theological School Committee, 

Rev. G. Van Baren