June 14, 2012 | Chelsea Tanis

After eight months of construction, Heritage Hall has come out of the shadows to claim space on the main floor of Hekman Library.

For 20 years, Heritage Hall existed in an unseen corner of Hekman Library, separated from the main floor by a hallway and a brick wall.

“The entrance wasn’t readily visible. You had to go around a couple of corners to get to us. It was always hard to explain how that worked to people who weren’t familiar with the building,” said Dick Harms, curator of archives at Heritage Hall since 1997.

When the library was renovated in the 1990s, it was presumed that Heritage Hall would be redone as well, Harms said. However, due to a lack of funds, the facility remained untouched.

As of this May, after nearly eight months of construction, the renovation of Heritage Hall is complete. The hall, home to the Calvin College archives, recently gained floor space in the library, allowing for both a new reading room and entryway to be built adjacent to the second floor circulation desk.

Preserving the past

Heritage Hall is responsible for the storage and preservation of Calvin’s records, as well as the records of Calvin Theological Seminary and the Christian Reformed Church of North America. “Much of it isn’t current but needs to be kept for legal or historic reasons,” said Harms.

While most items in Heritage Hall focus on religion and theology, the archives also contain materials pertaining to the Dutch migration west of the Appalachian Mountains in the United States and Canada during the 1840s. Called the “Colonial Origins Collection,” the compilation includes over four thousand letters from Dutch immigrants (with both domestic and international postings), as well as documents acquired by Diet Eman, a Dutch resistance fighter during World War II.

Up until the renovation, the archivists of Heritage Hall were constantly being faced with the issue of where to store Calvin’s expanding collection of records. As a temporary solution, the facility acquired neighboring rooms. However, aging documents require special care, and because of inadequate environmental controls, there was a concern that the collection wasn’t being properly kept.

“It’s our responsibility as archivists and rare-book librarians to make sure things last as long as they can,” said Harms. 

Now, with a new state-of-the art facility, Harms and his colleagues are finally at ease. “I can go talk to people about donating their material and say, ‘This is where your collection is going to be kept, cared for and used,’ whereas before, I had to talk around the fact that we didn’t have a very good facility,” said Harms.

Efficiency, temperature control and sustainability

Construction of the new Heritage Hall began in September 2011 and was held in two phases. Phase one involved creating a new storage room and installing mobile shelving—densely packed shelves set on a track and moved via a rotary handle. During phase two, HVAC (heating ventilation and air conditioning) was installed, as well as new lighting, and the offices and reading room were remodeled.

Many steps were taken to uphold Calvin’s Statement on Sustainability on the project through the incorporation of “green” construction. “We recycled all of the demo-materials—the waste materials, garbage—and repurposed carpet in other locations. In other words, a lot of the carpet we ripped up, we used in other places. A lot of the bricks we cleaned up and reused. We put in new, energy-efficient lighting,” said Phil Beezhold, director of the Physical Plant.

Room to grow

The origin of Heritage Hall can be traced back to Rev. van Raalte, who in 1848 led a small group of Calvinist Dutch immigrants to Michigan in order to escape religious persecution and economic hardships in the Netherlands. With their arrival, the city of Holland, MI as well as the Reformed Church of America came to be.

Not long after their arrival in Holland, church leaders recognized a need for record keeping, especially the keeping of minutes during meetings. Originally, this task was delegated to either the presiding officer or clerk of the meeting, but as the denomination evolved (and the Christian Reformed Church was born), it was decided that the Theological School in Grand Rapids would be the permanent place of storage for the records. The school’s head, Rev. Gerrit Boer, was named the archivist. When the Theological School in Grand Rapids became Calvin College, the librarian became the archivist. In 1957, Calvin was relocated to the Knollcrest Campus, and Heritage Hall was created. In 1962, when Hekman Library was built, the facility was placed on the main floor, where it remains to this day.

Harms is currently in the process of acquiring a large collection for the CRC Archives from Classes Hackensack and Hudson in New Jersey. Though the size of Heritage Hall has only been minimally increased, it now has 40 percent more storage space—plenty of room for the new addition. “In the business, you plan for 10 years of growth, and this will certainly cover 10 years of growth. Maybe more. Probably more,” said Harms.

Mobile Shelving

Renovation of entrance and Reading Room

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