Non-profit center takes shape at new Special Olympics Michigan headquarters

BYRON TWP. – Pam Liggett is not sure that the association she heads would exist today without Michigan Special Olympics Inc.It’s new corporate headquarters that anchors a hub for several nonprofits from West Michigan to south of Grand Rapids.

Liggett, Executive Director of Kent County Autism Support, called the installation a “godsend” for the allocation of space to local nonprofits at the former South Christian High School in Byron Township. Special Olympics Michigan acquired the building for $ 3.5 million in June 2019, and a $ 20 million renovation is underway. Autism Support of Kent County first moved into the building in December 2019.

“I really feel like we would have been stranded by COVID-19,” Liggett said. “Before that, we just borrowed space in schools. This space has been extremely beneficial to us as we have been able to double our programming over the past year.

Construction and renovations are underway at the old 127,000 square foot high school, but several nonprofits have already moved their offices to the campus located at 160 68th St. SW. Mathison | Mathison Architects and Fishbeck are the design and engineering team of the project, with Erhardt Construction Co. acting as a general contractor.

Plans call for the 17-acre campus to be transformed into a world-class sports complex for Special Olympics programming and competitions. The facility will also house an array of West Michigan nonprofits that would benefit Special Olympics athletes and their families.

“Our athletes and families rely on many other organizations,” said Tim Hileman, President and CEO of Special Olympics Michigan. “There are amazing nonprofits in West Michigan, and having all of these other service providers in one place will provide this amazing full service care to individuals and families, and all of this. under the same roof.”

In addition to Special Olympics Michigan, at least six other nonprofits have relocated or are planning to relocate to the Byron Township facilities.

Special Olympics Michigan launched the public phase of a fundraising campaign in July to raise $ 20 million for construction and renovation costs. The campaign has raised around $ 8.1 million so far, Hileman said. When complete, the project would be the largest Special Olympics facility in the world. The timing and completion of the project is dependent on funding, Hileman said.

Shared access, workspace

Autism Support of Kent County offers social programs for people with autism by organizing various social groups, family reunions and events. The organization closed for about three months last year, but reintroduced programming in the summer of 2020 based on the important needs of secure social frameworks, Liggett said.

The pandemic has hampered the association’s fundraising efforts, and Liggett said Autism Support’s small size often disqualified it from grant programs.

Special Olympics’ fixed rental rate provides a financial cushion for Autism Support, which was also able to expand its programming in the new space as demand for its services increased during the pandemic, Liggett said.

Meanwhile, Autism Support clients will also be introduced to programming from Special Olympics and other associated nonprofits in the new shared space.

The West Michigan Down Syndrome Association moved its offices to the Special Olympics campus in January 2020. The organization was previously located in downtown Grand Rapids at the Masonic Center, which has posed challenges and concerns for some clients, said Executive Director Jennifer DeVault.

But being alongside like-minded nonprofits will be a key benefit.

“The main reason we wanted to move here is that we wanted to partner with all the other organizations that will be located here,” DeVault said. “For us, the circle is complete. We are able to connect our families with more resources. And if they’re not already involved with Special Olympics, they’ll now have easier access to it if they want to.

The move also allowed the Down Syndrome Association to expand its office space due to cheaper rental and the availability of shared event spaces, DeVault said.

“There is so much more room to expand, and it has been a huge benefit to our members,” said DeVault. “We couldn’t afford the same amount of space in a different building. ”

As well, the West Michigan Mental Health Foundation plans to expand its offices after moving to the new facility in January 2022, Executive Director Christy Buck said. The organization works with Pioneer Construction Co. and GMB Architecture + Engineering to arrange its space.

“We will be able to double (our) workspace. On top of that, we’re going to be able to integrate some really good technology, which will be essential in delivering our programming everywhere, ”Buck said.

The foundation also plans to collaborate with other nonprofits while having access to larger event spaces, she said.

“It’s exciting that one of the first things we’ll do in January is host a high school symposium,” Buck said. “We have been doing this for the past five years in different school districts, but now we will be doing it in our own facility. ”

The Mental Health Foundation of West Michigan was looking for a new space to relocate their offices before Special Olympics space became available, Buck said.

“It will be a really engaging building,” Buck said. “It’s going to be energizing for all of us and a great collaboration. ”


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