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Steelcase donating facility as education hub

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GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Office furniture maker Steelcase Inc. plans to donate its massive pyramid-shaped former research facility in western Michigan to a nonprofit foundation for use as an education hub for the study of "STEM" subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Officials said the education hub would cater to students in preschool through graduate school, The Grand Rapids Press reported (http://bit.ly/MtdCkl ). Steelcase spokeswoman Laura VanSlyke said the company is excited to see the building take on a different life.

"We think it will bring value to the state," VanSlyke said.

The nonprofit Pyramid P20 STEM Education Hub is expected to set the vision for the hub, which could get $5.5 million in state funding. The seven-story, 664,000-square-foot building is located in Kent County's Gaines Township, near Grand Rapids. Steelcase is based in the area.

Businessman Jerry Zandstra, president of Inno-Versity, a Lowell-based business that produces manufacturing training films, and one of the founders of iCademy, a new public online charter school, said he and his partners have been working on the education hub project for months.

"The state is in desperate need of STEM-certified students and students with a STEM background," he said. "The program will focus on STEM plus art education and our vision is not to have unrelated schools in a building, but for it to be truly a hub with the integration of STEM education at all levels and at all ranges."

There is $5.5 million in a supplemental spending bill for the project that was recently approved by the state Senate. But a House budget panel on Wednesday removed proposed funding for the project. Differences are expected to be ironed out in a House-Senate conference committee in coming weeks.

"It is an awful lot of money to spend on a concept," said state Rep. Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids. "I would be very disappointed if this passed without a real understanding of the project detail, where the money is going and what's it for."

Other Democrats have criticized the proposed spending by the state. State Sen. Mark Jansen, R-Gaines Township, said he pursued the funding because he thinks it is a "rare opportunity for the state to become a global leader for STEM education and teaching."

"STEM is where everyone says Michigan's focus should be," Jansen said. "I think it is a wise decision that can help the whole state. This is cutting-edge, creative thinking."

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Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, http://www.mlive.com/grand-rapids

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