Location: Lansing, Michigan
This sturdy brick building was constructed in 1966 as the Braille Library for the Michigan School for the Blind, falling into disrepair in 1995, when the school moved to Flint. Since then, its boarded-up windows and graffiti-covered walls served as an architectural reminder of past prosperity.
All that changed last year with the opening of the Neighborhood Empowerment Center, a welcoming, state-of-the-art facility that houses three community agencies and flexible meeting space open to neighborhood groups and organizations. The renovation cost an economical $100/SF and transformed the former library into a light-filled, contemporary multi-tenant environment. Home to Head Start, The Land Bank, and The Greater Lansing Housing Coalition, the facility was re-imagined to become Mid-Michigan’s premier space for home owner assistance and education.
Key to the renovation’s success was the creation of a “Town Hall,” consisting of updated conference rooms and enclaves nestled within the building’s core to form a space for formal meetings, informal conversations, and educational events. By providing a common meeting area, each agency is able to use their individual space more efficiently and cost effectively. Additionally, the overlap of the common space promotes synergy as staff and community groups meet organically throughout the day. An additional entrance on the “neighborhood” side of the building reinforces the center’s commitment to being an open, welcoming community resource.
Natural light flows deep into the building as the walls and ceilings of the “Town Hall” stay well below the building’s 19-foot-tall interior space. New windows with high-performance glazing and an aluminum frame system provide energy efficiency and help support the LEED rating currently in progress.
The town hall corridors do double duty as art galleries, hosting a rotating display of community art where spray-painted graffiti once held sway.
The limited budget mandated a creative, cost-effective approach. “Making something from nothing” became the rule as the existing concrete floor was stained and reused whenever possible, and ceilings remained open to the joists, except where acoustical tile was mandated. The building’s unadorned architectural elements capture attention as floor-to-ceiling windows and soaring interior spaces create offices that support the building of community.
Design commenced February 2010; Owner-move in December 2011
Limited budget, mandate to use resources for maximum benefit.
Community agencies with similar social-service offerings now have modern, energy-efficient and highly functional offices. Prior to moving to this facility, each agency was located in a converted house that lacked meeting, private spaces and was functionally ill-suited to meet the organization’s needs.
The influence of this project ranges from educating students in the Head Start program to providing homes to families served by the Land Bank and Housing Commission to encouraging the continued development of the School for the Blind campus. The creation of this landmark building boldly offers hope for a future where children are educated to their full potential and local homes are filled with families making a living wage.