GRAND RAPIDS – Although Ferris State University is the only public university in Michigan named for its founder, the school did not have a building honoring him until June. That’s when the renovated historic Federal Building in downtown Grand Rapids was renamed the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building.
With a main campus about 50 miles north in Big Rapids, renovation of the 91,000-square-foot facility marked a major expansion of the university in Grand Rapids, home to Ferris’ Kendall College of Art and Design.
Most recently the building had been the site of the Grand Rapids Art Museum until the museum moved to a new facility in 2007. Before that, the historic building had been a courthouse, post office and also housed the field office of then-congressman Gerald R. Ford. Through an innovative public-private partnership, the university invested about $22 million in the project to expand the Kendall campus with additional classroom, office, studio and exhibition space.
“Given the success of this marvelous partnership and understanding the importance of the history and tradition of our institutions, naming the historic Federal Building for the founder of our university is a great symbol of our commitment to the City of Grand Rapids and West Michigan generally,” said Ferris President David Eisler.
Woodbridge Nathan Ferris founded what originally was called the Big Rapids Industrial School on Sept. 1, 1884. In addition to founding the university, Ferris was elected governor of the state of Michigan in 1912 and 1914, and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1922. He died in office on March 23, 1928. The university’s emphasis on career-oriented degrees stems from Ferris’ original vision of a school dedicated to real-world, experiential education.
“With the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building we have created a space that provides the resources budding artists, illustrators and designers need to be prepared for the demands of the workplace,” Eisler noted. “I can’t think of a more fitting tribute.”
As a result of the renovation, the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building received LEED Gold certification and also won a Governor’s Award from Gov. Rick Snyder for the preservation and restoration of the historic facility. The expansion of physical space for Kendall is timely as the college has almost doubled its enrollment – to more than 1,400 students – from the time it became a part of Ferris State University with the 2000-01 academic year.