Hope College: Bridging Town and Gown Opportunities

The Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, reflects a growing trend among colleges to share educational and cultural resources with their hometown. By working together, campus and town can plan facilities that benefit curriculum and community needs. The following three points detail how Hope College created an exceptional new Music Hall that enriches the campus and Holland.


Holland, Michigan, and Hope College have been mutually linked since their founding in 1866 on the shores of Lake Michigan. The town's historic downtown two blocks from campus is a destination for students, tourists and retirees alike, who head to the cluster of restaurants, cafés, shops and theaters along Eighth Street's heated sidewalks.

When the Hope College Music Department began researching a new building to make way for a proposed student center on their existing site in Nykerk Hall at the center campus, leadership expanded the academic programming to include a Concert Hall that could culturally and financially benefit the college and town.

Holland is located within a 180-mile radius from Grand Rapids, Lansing, Detroit and Chicago. Regional orchestras often visited Holland, but the town and campus lacked updated facilities to host national orchestras and performers. Additionally, the college competed with other liberal arts colleges that had recently built state-of-the-art performance facilities. The proposed music building and Concert Hall was an opportunity to dramatically increase the quality of the performance space for students and community alike.

Campus leadership considered several locations but soon engaged with town stakeholders to identify a site accessible to residents and students. Through a land swap with Holland, the college settled on a site equidistant from the campus and downtown, while the city gained adjacent campus land to build a skateboard park. The site helped reinforce the arts corridor that feeds into downtown's many attractions.

The Center for Musical Arts is located between town and campus.


The Music Department's original home in Nykerk Hall had undergone a series of additions and renovations since it was built in 1956, creating a fragmented layout with acoustically challenging rehearsal spaces that bled sound. Accreditation agencies often cautioned department leadership about the acoustics and aging rehearsal spaces.

The new building designed by HGA transforms the music education experience with acoustically superior performance and instructional spaces. The 70,000 square-foot program includes faculty offices, classrooms, rehearsal halls, 800-seat Concert Hall (550 on first floor/250 on balcony), and 125-seat Recital Hall.

Yet the site presented challenges as a freight line passed within yards of the building. Vibration from passing trains posed a risk to acoustical integrity. To resolve the challenges, the design team created a series of acoustically isolated concrete boxes structurally contained within the building infrastructure.

For instance, the Concert Hall is a concrete volume in which more than 50 15-inch-thick concrete panels frame the performance space while an exterior masonry skin further insulates the hall acoustically, creating a 23-inch-thick wall in total. The hall is structurally separate from the primary building--from foundation to framing--to avoid vibration transfer. Architectural details and interior finishes--from the glass lobby wall overlooking the campus to the wood-framed central staircase and acoustical paneled Concert Hall--create an inviting concert-going experience. Trains can now roar by and audience members will not hear a thing.

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The rehearsal halls similarly are concrete volumes structurally separate from the building, in this case composed of eight-inch-thick concrete panels and soundproof doors to prevent acoustical leaking. Dropped acoustical ceiling panels, wall panels and curtains further modulate sound while plenty of natural light makes rehearsal pleasant.


While the beautiful Concert Hall offers opportunities to book national performers with wide audience appeal, the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts is foremost an academic building. The classrooms and rehearsal halls offer state-of-the-art learning spaces that compete with peer institutions. The acoustically isolated studios allow multiple practices to occur without sound transfer between rooms.

Importantly, the building has expanded academic offerings since opening in fall 2015. Many guest performers, for instance, stay an extra day or two to offer master classes. Saxophonist and flutist Dave Liebman recently performed at Hope and followed-up with a master class. The classes add value to the student experience by exposing students to world-class performers and teachers.


For those pursuing similar town-and-gown opportunities, Hope College offers some advice:

  • Engage stakeholders who are invested in the success of the building.
  • Collaborate with your architects to conceptualize how the building can be used on campus and in town.
  • Leverage relationships to encourage investment from donors and alumni.
  • Prepare an economic forecast before moving forward.

Topics: Education, Arts & Culture


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Up Close: Jamie Milne Rojek, AIA

Bio_MilneRojekJ_web.jpgJamie provides high value to arts clients nationally. Her experience includes concert halls, theaters, performing-arts centers, museums and studio-arts projects. More >