Steelcase gives pyramid to education nonprofit

GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Steelcase Inc. is donating its iconic pyramid building to a new education nonprofit.

When Steelcase built the multimillion-dollar facility on East Paris Avenue SE between M-6 and 60th Street in the late 1980s, it became an instant landmark. But Steelcase is now long moved out and for years has been trying to offload the seven-story, 664,000-square-foot pyramid.

The Steelcase pyramid on East Paris Avenue SE. (Feb. 26, 2014)Now, the furniture manufacturer is simply giving the pyramid away.

“This is a very big deal,” said Jerry Zandstra, a businessman, Christian Reformed minister, film producer and college teacher with a Ph.D. “This is a unique opportunity, I think, for our community.”

Zandstra is also the frontman for a group that wants to use the pyramid for a program aimed at graduating students with better science, technology, engineering and math skills.

“There’s really two foundational principals,” Zandstra explained. “One is the governor’s concept of P20, which is really to have from preschool all the way through graduate school inside the same facility, where younger kids are working with older kids; older kids are working with college students.”

“The other part of it is STEM — which is science, technology, engineering and math,” Zandstra continued. “And we’re sort of adding an art component because we believe when really good engineering, science, technological minds get together with really creative, artistic, graphic-type designers, you get cool products.”

The state Senate vote to help jumpstart the project with $5 million, but the House of Representative cancelled out that funding. A legislative committee will have to hammer out whether the program will get any cash and how much.

“We hope that this is a great benefit for the state of Michigan, for our area in particular,” Zandstra said.

The plan took some local educators by surprise. The Kent County Intermediate School District, which has consultants in schools promoting better STEM learning, says the proposal appears to duplicate what’s already happening.

But Zandstra says what his group has in mind goes far beyond high school education.

“We invite them to come and see what we’re doing and we certainly hope we no competitors. What we want to do is collaborate,” he said.

No local school districts have signed onto work with the program yet, but Zandstra expects the first classes to start in August 2015.

Zandstra said his organization won’t take possession of the pyramid until the end of 2014.

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