The heart of the university
GVSU donors celebrate library completion
Outside the northeast corner of the Mary Idema Pew Library were large white tents, multiple flat screen TVs and hundreds of people attending Grand Valley State University’s formal dedication of its newest building on Sept. 3.
As the crowd took their seats, the GVSU Laker Marching Band approached the tents from behind the
Kirkhof Center, passed the Carillon Clock tower and came to a stop on the lawn near the ceremony.
The crowd then rose to its feet as the band played the National Anthem under the direction of John
Martin, assistant professor of music and director of athletic bands.
As the applause fell, President Thomas Haas made some opening remarks.
“One of the primary reasons why we are receiving national recognition is because of the way this
library is constructed,” Haas said. “The way it’s going to live and breathe with the learning needs of
our students, and that’s a really great part of this.”
The library was one of the biggest projects the university has undertaken, and the model used
inside the library will be a national model of an academic hub where ideas from every discipline
come together, Haas said.
“It’s going to change the way students learn,” he said.
Haas went on to personally thank the many people involved with the project, including the 1,400
private donors from across the GVSU community who contributed $20 million to the $65 million
library through GVSU’s largest giving campaign, Shaping Our Future.
“We were able to garner some great donor support for the project,” Haas said. “And that to me
demonstrated the commitment that many have across West Michigan, and across our alum base
and our good faculty, staff and students and parents.”
These private donors were supportive of the project and were looking ahead to its future impact on
GVSU, Haas said.
“They were all in some fashion seeing the vision as we could see it too,” Haas said. “They wanted to
make these investments, and these investments are going to give us a great return on very well-
qualified graduates, who are going to be ready for graduate school, ready for a job and ready for
Another $23 million in bonds were used to support the project, with the remaining amount coming
from the university’s campus development funds.
The library officially opened in June of 2013, after about two years of construction, but the
planning process had been going on long before that. SHW Group, the architects and engineers for
the library, had been working on campus since 2007, said Janice Suchan, principal at the Group.
She added that a lot of the work was put in during the pre-design stage by making benchmark tours
to view other peer facilities across the nation.
“I think during the benchmark tours, not so much the other libraries were as much of an
inspiration as more retail-based things like Apple, and museums (and) hospitality places,” Suchan said.
“Instead of talking specifically about what the building is, it’s about how the building should
act and how it should help students.”
Tod Stevens, principal designer, said SHW Group had a lot of conversations with GVSU
librarians and the university to figure out what the library should be and how it could be different.
“The thing that sets (the library) apart is the idea that it’s actively engaging with the students,” Stevens said.
“Most libraries are very passive, they give you this space – which, there’s abundant space here, too –
but I think that it’s actively engaging with the students about research, and being able
to practice your speech, and all of those things are embedded in the thinking of the library.”
But comparing the new library to other libraries wasn’t what the designers had in mind.
“Where do students want to hang out?” Stevens said. “Where do they want to eat, where do they want to be?
They don’t want to be someplace where it’s quiet and dull, they want to be some place that is fun to be at.”
The Pew Library has 1,500 seats that come in 27 different designs, which triples
the seating capacity of the old Zumberge Library. A 21-foot-long fireplace allows for comfortable
reading on the fourth floor during the colder months, and outdoor seating on the first, third and
fourth floors lets students venture outside when the weather is nice.
The new library has about 154,000 square feet – more than double the size of the old library –
and has space for 150,000 books on shelves and 600,000 items in an automated retrieval system.
“This has been a vision for many, many years and today we celebrate the completion of a building,
but what’s going to go on inside is what I’m excited about,” Haas said.
The new building has places that allow for both quiet studying and areas where students can
collaborate and interact with each other. The Knowledge Market also provides students with
professional resources to aid their learning in various areas like writing, speeches and research.
“It’s a facility that is going to get created by the students themselves,” Haas said. “They will
figure out how to use this, and I’m very, very excited because at the end of the day we want
our students to be successful and I think this building will enable that success.”
Kate Pew Wolters, GVSU Board of Trustees member, said it was “very cool” the building was named after her mother.
“It’s something that will be here forever and remind me of my family, my mother and what she
did for Grand Valley,” she said. “The part I love is seeing all the students using every square inch
of this place. That really surprises me and it pleases me very much. They seem to be very happy.”
Prior to the formal dedication, key leaders of the library project and family and close friends
of Pew Wolters held a much smaller ceremony and placed a time capsule in the northeast corner of the building.
Inside the capsule was a photo of Mary Idema Pew, a letter from University Libraries Dean Lee Van Orsdel,
early architectural renderings, a list of artwork in the library and a librarian action figure.
Mary Idema Pew was fond of bridge so a deck of cards and a rule book for bridge was also included in the time capsule.
Robert C. Pew, one of GVSU’s founders and Pew Wolters’ father, made an early gift to the university
that was seen as a catalyst for the library project, but he passed away before the project
came to completion. Pew Wolters said it was hard knowing that her father wasn’t able to be at the ceremony.
“But the part that my dad always knew, was that the library will always be the heart of any university,” she said.
“And when I think about it that way, it makes sense that he would want to name the heart of the university
after the love of his life.”