Article Source: MLive.com
Photo Credit: Rex Larsen
WYOMING — A 1961 Press article described Grace Bible College’s then-new campus as “a contemporary design with rustic overtones.” Fifty years later, the original main building just looks rusty.
A $1.6 million project to modernize the appearance and feel of the campus begins today. Work will include improvements to parking lots, walkways and landscaping and a 3,500-square-foot expansion of the main entry into a student commons with a fireplace, coffee bar, modern seating and outdoor patios.
“Relationship is everything for students at this age,” said Ken Kemper, college president.
“We have no one place where students can gather.
Now, (our renovated building will say) ‘This is a cool place to be.’”
And 1011 Aldon St. SW remains the place the college wants to be, a half-century after it relocated from Milwaukee. Then known as Milwaukee Bible Institute, the school that’s affiliated with churches of the Grace Gospel Fellowship held classes in the basement of Fundamental Bible Church. The church’s pastor, Charles F. Baker, was the school’s founder.
Grace had close ties to Grand Rapids because of several supporting churches in the area. So when a school next door wanted to expand, the 100-student college went looking for a new home and found 10 acres in Wyoming, said Bill Velting, 83, a board member of the college at that time.
The $400,000 campus included a central building and two dormitories.
The board’s vice chairman at the time of the move was Chris H. Sonneveldt, who later became a Grand Rapids mayor.
“Grand Rapids was a real hub of Grace people,” said Velting, who was part of the Berean Bible Church that built in the same neighborhood in 1959.
Berean Bible Church, now called Rush Creek Bible Church, since has relocated to a suburb farther afield. Grace Bible College several years ago also looked at moving out of Wyoming, but deemed an estimated $10 million cost of building a new campus too pricey, said Rick Velting, chairman of the board and Bill’s nephew.
Through the years, the college has added a chapel, library, housing for married students, a soccer field and a gymnasium that’s home to the school’s national championship basketball team. The campus has grown to more than 20 acres, moving faculty offices and all classrooms in 2004 to a former Wyoming elementary school across the street.
Grace now is making four times its original investment in the property, hoping to boost enrollment nearer a 350-student capacity.
“God has given us a spot in Wyoming. There’s a mission here and it’s growing (as other churches move out),” Kemper said. “We need to be more diverse and we need to work cross-culturally.
“People are looking for us to lead in that.”