By CAROL SOUTH
Special to the Record-Eagle
FRANKFORT — Transforming a 1934 Coast Guard station into a vibrant art center is a tall order.
Add in making the project environmentally friendly from start to finish and the resulting Elizabeth Lane Oliver Center for the Arts — or Oliver Art Center for short — will be an green innovator in Benzie County for years to come.
The building recently received a LEED Platinum rating from the United States Green Building Council, the highest green certification. The Oliver Art Center is the 12th building in the state to achieve that ranking and the first in northern Michigan.
"To get the Platinum rating, the building had to be constructed and must be maintained to extremely high standards," said Steve Brown, executive director of the Oliver Art Center. "We're doing things right for the future as opposed to just slapping an old building together and putting some art in it."
Construction features that earned the center's Platinum rating include reusing 95 percent of the old building's walls, floors and roof; extensively insulating the building; controlling interior climate using geothermal cooling and energy recovery ventilation systems; installing low-flow water fixtures and high-efficiency lighting; using local materials and providing windows in every room. The parking lot, too, is permeable and the property has a storm water management system.
"It's exciting because I think it highlights the sustainability of reusing an existing building," said Ann Dilcher, project manager for Quinn Evans Architects. "It's important that you are not just tearing down and putting all that material in a landfill."
Leaders of the collaborative, public-private partnership took the long view from the start — a visionary stance, according to architect Mike Quinn of Quinn Evans Architects.
"The city of Frankfort, as owner, should also take pride in this accomplishment as a demonstration of how individuals and government agencies can support creating a healthier environment for future generations," he said.
Green principles boosted the overall price tag of the $3.2 million renovation but will save money in the long run because of reduced utility costs compared to new construction. Major renovations converted quarters and boat bays into an art gallery, but the Oliver Art Center still pays homage to the original design and function. Renovation plans received approval from both the State Historic Preservation Office and the National Park Service.
"The building is stunning, useful, forward-looking and in this beautiful nexus of nature," said Brown, noting the center's location on Betsie Bay, where eagles, ducks, otters and minks can be seen amid lake views.
The center has hosted more than 20 exhibitions of local, regional and statewide artists since it officially opened in June 2011, and this class season boasts 50 teachers and at least as many volunteers.
"The town and the region and Benzie County have really supported us overwhelmingly," Brown said.
The 9,000-square-foot Oliver Art Center continues a rich history of art in Frankfort and Benzie County. The former Crystal Lake Art Center dates to 1948 when it began in a horse stable. A fire and some moves later, the center's home on 10th Street in Frankfort was bursting at the seams by the early 2000s.
Discussions of building a larger center transformed into conversations to renovate the Coast Guard building when the city acquired it in 2007. Josh Mills, Frankfort's superintendent, came to the then-Crystal Lake Art Center's board and asked them to submit a proposal to the federal government.
"We had outgrown our space," said Elaine Peterson, an Oliver Art Center board member who has been involved with the renovation since the beginning. "Our gallery was the classroom and meeting room, we just didn't have enough space."
Over the next few years, the center's capital campaign drew deep support as 530 donors pitched in with donations ranging from a penny to $700,000.
Even after more than 18 months after the center opened, improvements and growth continues. The Oliver Art Center just received a $40,000 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs to renovate a former garage into a ceramics studio.
For more information on the Oliver Art Center, call (231) 352-4151 or see www.oliverartcenterfrankfort.org.