A look inside the new Affirmations

Jason A. Michael

FERNDALE – If the City of Ferndale was recently voted among the best places for gays to live, then the new Affirmations is a shoo-in should the magazine ever rank the most impressive LGBT community center buildings across the nation. Everything about the new building, located at 290 W. Nine Mile Road and scheduled to open to the public next month, is top of the line and totally first rate.
The beauty of the center is visible even before you enter it, thanks to the windowed front walls that afford generous views of the center's lobby and cyber cafe, the latter of which will be operated by Pronto! The cafe will have several PCs available for community use, as well as ample space for folks who bring in their laptops. Food and drinks will be on sale from the time the center opens until it closes – and that's a remarkable total of 80 hours per week (9-9 Monday-Wednesday, 9-11 Thursday and 9-midnight on Friday and Saturdays).

Click here to see a gallery of images of the new Affirmations.

As you step inside the front doors, you enter the mammoth lobby, which doubles at the center's art gallery.
"All of the members who are using the community center will have access to it, unlike they do upstairs in a room that might have a meeting in it, like in our old space," said Affirmations Executive Director Leslie Thompson, who treated Between The Lines to a special tour of the new space. "This way, it will always be available. So for the artists, it will be much better."
The gallery's opening show will feature the work of local artist, community activist and BTL columnist Charles Alexander.
"When we opened the gallery in the old building he had the first show, so we're really excited about that," Thompson said.
Beyond the lobby, and behind the reception desk, is the huge community room.
"We have a portable stage that can go either at the end or on the side," said Thompson. "We have a sound system, a lighting system. We're going to have the prom here, we can have town halls here, dances, ballroom dancing lessons, pilates, yoga."
The room can hold 200 standing, 120 in folding chairs, 88 with banquet tables and 64 with round tables. The center even has a portable basketball hoop to allow members to play half-court basketball in the room. Believe it or not, there's even a "green room" across the hall where folks who are performing in the community room can prepare.
Speaking of green, the new center home is a "green," or environmentally friendly, building. The idea to design it as such came from Tito Gutierrez of the Kresge Foundation during the initial planning meetings.
"He brought that up really early on because of something Kresge was doing, who was building a building as well," Thompson said. "It was something that was embraced by the entire committee because A, it's the right thing to do, and B, even though there's a little higher initial costs, after a few years, you save that back and then you're saving money. So as good stewards of the community's donations, it made sense to be running the most efficient building that we could."
To that end, the center features an abundance of natural light through a multitude of windows. Such light allows for air to travel. There are many other environmentally friendly features to the center, such as a bike rack and a restroom with a shower, to allow employees to bike to work and then shower the sweat away. There's a recycling center in the basement, primarily white walls – because dark colored paint contains more toxins – and even waterless urinals in the men's restrooms.
But if the center is now environmentally friendly, it's also high tech. The dry erase board positioned just inside the old building's front door has been replaced with a scrolling computer screen that will announce each day's activities and their locations. There are numerous flat screen TVs and monitors positioned throughout the building, and the library, which will feature several PCs for public use, will double the center's book space capacity.
Upstairs there are several conference rooms, the largest of which features a 12-line phone bank. There's also an outside patio and a meditation room complete with a water feature. The upstairs is also where the center's permanent LGBT art collection – the first of its kind in the state – will be displayed.
Overseeing all the work was Bob Ziegelman of Luckenbach/Ziegelman Architects, for whom this was his second green project.
"Our starting point was with Affirmations' programs and their dreams," Ziegelman said. "We always say, they give us the words and we make the music."
The most difficult aspect of the project was, not surprisingly, a different kind of green: money.
"We had a budget constriction, and then we had to get them the most pleasant, spacious space to fulfill their programs within a very restricted budget," said Ziegelman. "We worked very hard and did it over and over again."
For Thompson, the new building is a dream come true, and very close to her original vision for the project.
"It wasn't far off from this," she said. "I think the only thing different in what we ended up with and what my vision was, was a bigger gym, like actually a gym where we could do full-court basketball and volleyball and some of that. But my dream was a gallery that people could get into anytime and see the art, a building that would be accessible by the disabled community, some type of food service, more flexible meeting rooms. I wanted something that was visible, as well, so that the community knew we were here."
Thompson said she hopes that the new center is not just her dream come true, but the community's as well.
"We had the community involved in building this," she said. "It wasn't our board, it wasn't our staff, we put together a committee of members of the LGBT and allied community that have been working on this since 2001. We got a lot of input, and we took as much of that to heart as we could."
Still, Thompson said not everything on the list made by the community got checked off.
"The underground parking and the pool – those ideas we couldn't make happen. We got more ideas than we could use."

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