Kalamazoo college president touts Healthy Living Campus

Emily Monacelli
Kalamazoo Gazette

Kalamazoo — Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s new Healthy Living Campus, being built in downtown Kalamazoo, can’t be found anywhere else in the nation, KVCC President Marilyn Schlack said.

Schlack, KVCC president since 1982, said the campus is intended to offer a culinary degree that’s focused on healthy eating and healthy living.

The $45 million campus, on 13 acres donated by Bronson Healthcare, will be home to three separate facilities: a Culinary/Health Careers building; a Food Innovation center; and a Mental Health clinic. Construction began in September and the anticipated program launch is fall 2015 with facilities opening shortly thereafter.

Original estimates for the project were $42 million, but costs tied to widening Portage Creek, flood plain work and excavation of the site drove up the price.

“You’re not going to find it anywhere in the nation, and that’s what we find exciting,” Schlack said.

Schlack said KVCC leaders are focusing on the community partnership and the school’s focus.

The programs will not focus on high-end chefs, Schlack said, but rather those who will be employed in nursing homes, hospitals and schools.

“These are going to be chefs that are going to be trained not only in preparing the food but growing the food, and understanding the relationship about what foods make a difference in different parts of our living arrangements,” Schlack said.

“We’re also looking at the relationship between mental illness and substance abuse and diet. There’s a lot of research out there now that shows there is a cause and effect, and we think we can demonstrate that cause and effect and make a difference.”

Schlack said the campus also will have an eye on jobs; it won’t strictly be training students to prepare food, but also will focus on growing food and food safety.

Schlack said KVCC officials already have heard of public entities and private developers showing interest in the downtown and Southtown areas of Kalamazoo where the Healthy Living Campus will be located. She said KVCC’s work on the floodplain in the area of the new campus will help KVCC’s neighbors, as will the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s work to clean up Portage Creek.

“We know what kind of a difference that can make in a neighborhood,” Schlack said, noting the positive experience KVCC’s Arcadia Commons campus has had on the north end of downtown.

“We think that same thing can happen in this location and that will have an economic development impact as well as give people an opportunity to come to the campus that may not otherwise have access.”

KVCC’s existing facilities can accommodate 14,000 students. Schlack said the current enrollment is just shy of 12,000 students. Schlack said KVCC, like other community colleges, serves as a feeder school to four-year universities and transfers up to 3,000 students a year to Western Michigan University.