WMU News

WMU picks Kalamazoo for engineering site, expands Battle Creek presence

January 22, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- Western Michigan University's Board of Trustees approved recommendations by President Elson S. Floyd to locate the University's new $50 million engineering college and related facilities in Kalamazoo and to launch a major expansion of the University's presence in Battle Creek.

The board approved Floyd's recommendation that all of the previously proposed engineering facilities be constructed on the University's Lee Baker Farm property, located on Drake Road near U.S. 131. Those facilities include a new College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a new paper and printing science teaching and research facility. The recommendation also includes development of a research park at the site that is expected to attract dozens of private spin-off businesses.

In addition, the board approved a second set of proposals made by Floyd that would put a new research facility in Battle Creek's Fort Custer Industrial Park and increase the University's presence and role in that community.

The Battle Creek developments approved include:

"The actions which we are taking today truly recognize the importance of both Kalamazoo and Battle Creek," said Floyd in making his recommendations. "The synergy that we can create regionally through these new growth strategies will benefit the entire area and enhance its ability to attract and retain a wide variety of new industries and technologies.

"I am convinced that we must think regionally and make a concerted effort to collaboratively develop the I-94 corridor and permanently combine the resources and talents that our communities have in such abundance," Floyd continued.

Both Kalamazoo and Battle Creek made formal presentations to University officials in December, offering construction sites and financial packages to help the University construct the College of Engineering, the new paper and printing science research center and a proposed research park. Kalamazoo proposed the Lee Baker Farm site for the college and research park. The Kalamazoo proposal also called for construction of the paper and printing science facility on a parcel of University land on Stadium Drive. The board, however, approved Floyd's recommendation that the paper and printing science facility also be located on the Lee Baker Farm.

In approving Floyd's recommendations, trustees made it clear that their decision is contingent on the Kalamazoo City Commission's approval of needed zoning changes to the 265-acre Lee Baker Farm property as well as the community's acceptance of locating the paper and printing facility at the site along with the rest of the engineering facilities.

"To assure the healthiest possible future for our paper and printing science programs, " Floyd said, "we frankly think it necessary that all of their educational and research facilities be located there with the rest of the college."

The board's approval also is contingent on arriving at "an acceptable definition of the Asylum Lake property and governing control." Kalamazoo's proposal included a provision that would create an endowment for maintaining a permanent preserve for passive recreation on the University's Asylum Lake property, which is located across Drake Road from the Lee Baker Farm.

The University plans to build a $50 million building to house its College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. The project will be funded by a capital outlay from the state and by $12.5 million in funds raised by WMU. Funds also must be secured to build the paper and printing science research facility. The Kalamazoo proposal called for the city to finance that construction through the sale of municipal bonds.

The Kalamazoo proposal included a $20 million financial package comprised of $15 million from private sources and a $3.12 million commitment from the city as well as a $1.5 million endowment to turn the University's nearby Asylum Lake property into a permanent protected nature preserve.

The Battle Creek proposal offered four pieces of property near its Fort Custer Industrial Park as possible sites for the facilities. It also included financing capability of $15 million, land value of up to $4 million and building incentives valued at up to $6.2 million.

"Both communities should be very proud of the proposals their representatives brought to the
University," Floyd said. "Once again, I must compliment everyone involved for their commitment to
helping move WMU and the region to new heights."

The University's Battle Creek expansion will include new construction of a research center that will provide service to current clients of Battle Creek Unlimited, that city's economic development agency, as well as serve as a magnet to attract new manufacturing and high-technology businesses. It also could attract federal research money allocated for manufacturing research.

The initial phase of the project is expected to occupy about 30,000 square feet and the building will be designed to accommodate future expansions. Initial cost estimates for the project, including equipment and staff, put the price at about $6.5 million. The center will have a small number of full-time faculty and staff and also is expected to attract graduate-level student researchers.

The bachelor's degree program in manufacturing engineering will be implemented in coordination with Kellogg Community College and will be modeled on a successful program WMU launched in Muskegon in 1996. That program was designed by Muskegon-area manufacturers to produce the kind of engineers those firms need most. Students complete their first two years at Muskegon Community College and their final two years through WMU in Muskegon. That degree program is only currently available in Muskegon.

The School of Aviation Sciences' elevation to college status, Floyd noted, will be accompanied by a renewed commitment to the growth of that program and of its year-old International Pilot Training Centre. Battle Creek's W.K. Kellogg Airport has been the home of those programs since the fall of 1997. A search currently being conducted for a new director for the school will now be recast as a search for a dean.

"It is absolutely appropriate for us to expand our presence in Battle Creek," Floyd said. "Building a new center for manufacturing research at Fort Custer and collaborating with KCC to offer a manufacturing engineering degree will significantly help with regional job creation and job training."

Floyd pointed out that the entire proposal process, though often painted as a competition between Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, was an attempt to forge the kind of public/private partnership that will be the hallmark of his administration. Such efforts, he said, leverage public and private resources to enable
WMU to provide its students with the best education possible.

"I thank Jim Hettinger for his superb leadership in Battle Creek, with Battle Creek Unlimited, and Kalamazoo for their aggressive and important work in this regard," he said.

Media contact: Matt Kurz, 616 387-8400, matt.kurz@wmich.edu

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