415 Franklin: How $23M is transforming the old GR Christian HS

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The hallways of the former Grand Rapids Christian High School will soon again be filled with the laughter of children.

The campus at 415 Franklin St. SE is undergoing a $23 million makeover by Madison Church and the Inner City Christian Federation.

(Construction fencing surrounds 415 Franklin Street SE during $23 million in renovations.)

Ed DeVries donated the property to Madison Church in 2015. Joanna DeMoor-Tannor, site executive director from Madison Church Franklin Campus, says the church spent two years determining how to maximize use of the building, which included talking to local stakeholders.

“It’s our call as a church to be present and to be active in our community. And so having a gift like this… we knew right away that this wasn’t something that we wanted to develop just to serve the church. We really needed this to be something that would serve our community and come alongside other organizations that are doing good work in that as well,” she said.

Construction crews have been renovating the 70,000-square-foot building since July 2019. DeMoor-Tannor says while COVID-19 stalled construction for about six weeks, it also heightened the need for the programs and resources 415 Franklin will soon offer.

(An October 2020 photo shows office space and community space under construction at the former Grand Rapids Christian High School building at 415 Franklin Street SE.)

The finished space will be home to affordable housing, an early childhood development center, community gathering spaces, Madison Church’s Franklin campus and ICCF’s offices.

’41 PLACES FOR FAMILIES TO CALL HOME’

(An October 2020 photo shows an apartment unit under construction at the former Grand Rapids Christian High School building at 415 Franklin Street SE.)

ICCF is converting the second and third floors into “41 places for families to call home,” DeMoor-Tannor said.

Each affordable housing unit has a unique layout. Some include original elements, including glass block windows. Three of the units are specially equipped for people with disabilities.

“ICCF was an obvious choice to partner with here. They do incredible work around the city and we really have found a great partnership together with them in this space,” said DeMoor-Tannor.

The community includes one market-rate apartment for the person chosen to oversee the community living space.

ADDRESSING THE ‘EARLY CHILDHOOD DESERT’

(An October 2020 photo shows a classroom inside the early childhood development center under construction at the former Grand Rapids Christian High School building at 415 Franklin Street SE.)

Madison Church is also teaming up with the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative to develop one wing of the building into the early childhood center, which will serve about 72 infants, toddlers and preschoolers in five classrooms.

DeMoor-Tannor says the center will help ease the “early childhood desert” in southeast Grand Rapids.

“Early childhood is an incredible need in this area… there’s a massive shortage of early childhood spaces,” she said. “When children have safe spaces to be during the day then their parents are also freed up to go to work. That’s been a thing that we see as a continued need in this area.”

DeMoor-Tannor says each classroom will be painted in calming earth tones, use plenty of natural light and include as many natural materials as possible in design.

The plans also call for an outdoor play space, kitchen and multipurpose room.

ALTERED ATRIUM ‘THE HEARTBEAT OF THIS WHOLE PROJECT’

(An October 2020 photo shows the renovated atrium at the former Grand Rapids Christian High School building at 415 Franklin Street SE.)

The central atrium was completely transformed from an overgrown outdoor courtyard filled with poison ivy, trees and contaminated soil into a glass-enclosed gathering space.

“That space really is going to be the heartbeat of this whole project… and a place where neighbors come together, where community comes together and where the church and other nonprofit organizations in this community really are going to be coming together,” DeMoor-Tannor explained.

She says combined with the sanctuary, the atrium will serve as an event space for meetings, weddings, receptions, funerals and other life events.

(An October 2020 photo shows the renovated atrium at the former Grand Rapids Christian High School building at 415 Franklin Street SE.)

RETAINING HISTORIC TOUCHES

The building, which was originally constructed in 1931 and served as the Department of Human Services for 40 years, will retain some of its historic features.

The chapel’s ornate pillars and trim remain intact as part of Madison Church’s sanctuary. The chalkboards from classrooms are being repurposed for the early childhood center and downstairs café, and granite bathroom stalls will be reused as well.

Some tile, banisters and windows are among other elements that will stay for ICCF to retain a $1.9 million historic tax credit for the project.

FAITH AND FUNDRAISING

ICCF was also awarded $9.5 million low-income housing tax credit and about $250,000 from the city of Grand Rapids’ home fund to help with financing its share of the renovations. Community donations have also helped.

Madison Church members say their faith has helped them navigate project challenges, including their portion of project funding.

“When we first accepted this building, we knew that this project was above our ability to do. We’re not that large of a church and to take on a building that needed $23 million of work, we were in over our head. And so it was always a step of faith on our part,” said DeMoor-Tannor. “There were early voices in our church that really spoke out and said, ‘Hey, when God opens a door, you can walk through it with confidence because he’s going to make the way.’ And that really has been our experience every step of the way.”

Madison Church’s tenacity was recently rewarded with another $200,000 grant from a local foundation, bringing the church closer to its project fundraising goal of $4.9 million, which includes work to the sanctuary, some of the community spaces, and building the early childhood learning center. DeMoor-Tannor says the church now has $3.3 million of the funds it needs.

FINALLY FINDING A HOME

(A photo shows the chapel at 415 Franklin Street SE, which will serve as a worship space for Madison Church Franklin Campus.)

The church expects the entire project to be complete in February 2021. Franklin campus members are ready to move into the first place they can call their own.

“We’re excited to move in and to call this home,” DeMoor-Tannor said.

From its inception in 2008 until the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, the Madison Church Franklin Campus worshipped at the Gerald R. Ford Academic Center gym.

“But because of COVID, we haven’t been able to get back in there and we’re not expecting to,” DeMoor-Tannor explained.

The church’s future neighbor, the Boys and Girls Club, has since stepped up to provide a meeting space in addition to online worship. DeMoor-Tannor says the church’s ties to the youth organization will remain even when they move into the new sanctuary next door.

(An October 2020 photo shows Madison Church Franklin Campus’ sanctuary under construction at the former Grand Rapids Christian High School building at 415 Franklin Street SE.)

“This is truly what our faith calls us to, what God calls us to as a church,” she said. “We’re rooted here and we’re here for the long haul.”