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Former JCPenney site transforms into new campus

The new GRCC Lakeshore Campus makes a perfect case for the expression "less is more," with services and classes offered at four scattered Ottawa County locations coming together in a central site.

For GRCC President Bill Pink, the 2019 purchase of a former JCPenney at the Shops at Westshore Mall was all about access – bringing the college's successful programs to more students.

"This location enhances the GRCC Lakeshore campus's ability to be relative and responsive to our West Michigan communities," he said. "Our college is uniquely positioned to help learners connect – or reconnect – with higher education. We're proud of what we provide now and are excited to think about how we can impact lives long into the future."

Ottawa County leaders were quick to praise GRCC's plan to renovate the 50,000-square-foot space in Holland Township, and Dr. Kathryn Mullins, vice president of College Advancement and executive director of the GRCC Foundation, quickly found herself fielding pledges of support from Ottawa residents and businesses.

"Area leaders and educators have seen the advantages of a centralized Lakeshore Campus, not only in opportunities for students but for businesses looking to keep their employees" training up to date," she said. "Ottawa County has been generous, even through a pandemic."

The new campus, which opened to the public in August, will allow more Ottawa County residents to access higher education and keep current with the training they need for 21st century careers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 57.2% of Ottawa County residents ages 25 and older have little – or no – college experience.

Jennifer Owens, president of Lakeshore Advantage, a nonprofit economic development organization, notes that statistic has far-reaching consequences: "Access to higher education is a key driver for economic prosperity."

GRCC Lakeshore Campus is not only much larger – it's also centrally located at U.S. 31 and James Street. Students can access services, such as testing, counseling, placement and a satellite library, in one place. It's also on a Macatawa Area Express bus line – a crucial element in overcoming the transportation barrier many Ottawa County residents face. 

These programs can now be completed entirely on the Lakeshore:

  • Associate of Arts.
  • Associate of General Studies.
  • Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences-Industrial Maintenance Technology.
  • Certificate in Industrial Maintenance.
  • Certificate of Industrial Technology.
  • Certificate in Tooling and Manufacturing.
  • Certificate in Welding.

The new space will also allow more employer and educator partnerships and plans call for additional programs, possibly in health care, early childhood education and teaching.

During the Lakeshore Campus’ ribbon cutting, student Kelsey Sivertson, who returned to college in her late 20s and is now a year away from her pre-English literature degree, shared what the new site will mean to her and future students. 

"As I look at this new Lakeshore Campus, I see opportunity for Ottawa County students like me to drive 10 rather than 35 minutes to class," she said. “I see accessibility for those who get off work at 5 – they’ll be able to make it to a 5:30 class with time to spare for a quick coffee or tea. Most importantly, I see hope. I see a community that believes in its residents, even those who for a long time have felt stuck.

"President Pink, you have chosen to take this empty mall that once stood as a representation of failure and repurposed it with promise and meaning and hope. And in doing that, you have vocalized your belief that people like me can do the same."

Donors Help Lay Foundation for Lakeshore Future

Gentex might be best-known for its automatic-dimming rearview mirrors, but it is always thinking ahead, which is why company leaders threw their support behind GRCC’s plan for a consolidated Lakeshore Campus.

"As a technology company, we employ a highly skilled workforce," said Steve Downing, Gentex CEO and president. "We value continual learning and career advancement, which is why we maintain a robust tuition reimbursement program. At any given time, Gentex has numerous employees continuing their education,
taking classes and working toward their degrees."

Downing said Gentex plans to work with GRCC on programs to support the company’s needs as well as the
surrounding manufacturing base. The company currently employs more than 200 GRCC alumni.

"The new GRCC Lakeshore Campus will allow our workforce to access GRCC’s state-of-the-art teaching and learning right in our own backyard!" Gentex is one of many donors that stepped up to support the Lakeshore Campus. Others include:

  • James W. Brooks.
  • Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area.GMB Architecture + Engineering.
  • Haworth.
  • Herman Miller.
  • Hudsonville Creamery and Ice Cream LLC.
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