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Unions and recreational space upgrades move ahead

Adam Glanzman/Daily
The main entrance hallway in the Michigan Union on Thursday. Buy this photo

By Sam Gringlas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 18, 2013

Inside the Michigan Union at Thursday’s meeting of the University's Board of Regents, the regents decided to administer a $65-per-term student fee to fund renovation of the Union and recreational sports facilities.

The building, constructed in 1919, will undergo a restoration sensitive to its architectural heritage and upgrade student organization offices for a cost of $173 million. The University will begin assessing the student fee in fiscal year 2015.

The project will encompass the Union, Pierpont Commons, North Campus Recreation Building, Central Campus Recreation Building and the Intramural Sports Building. The Michigan League will not receive any funding.

The goals for each building include repairs and upgrades of underlying infrastructure and core systems. The CCRB and NCRB will each receive some additions. Students spaces will be updated in the Union and improved playing surfaces will be constructed at Mitchell Fields on Fuller Road between the University Hospital and North Campus.

In a communication to the regents, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student affairs, noted all renovations would take precautions to preserve the 94-year-old building's history.

The projects will be completed over a number of years, akin to the ongoing Residence Hall Initiative of the past decade. The Board of Regents will approve each individual project at future meetings.

The Union was last renovated in 1994, in a project that encompassed the entire building. In 1972, the fourth floor, which previously consisted of hotel rooms, was converted into office space for student organizations.

At most other higher education institutions, common spaces and recreational facilities are typically supported by student fees separate from tuition and housing charges.

The University worked with Central Student Government and the LSA Student Government to garner support for the project. Student governments from 15 University schools and colleges have endorsed support for the plan.

In February, the University sent out a survey across campus to students to gauge support for a fee to support the renovations. Around two-thirds of respondents indicated that they would support the implementation of a surcharge.

The University created the nation’s first student recreation program in 1928. The Michigan Union is the third oldest building of its type in the nation. It has served as the backdrop for multiple historic events, including President John F. Kennedy’s speech that inspired the creation of the Peace Corps in 1960 and a discussion lead by Martin Luther King on civil rights in 1962.

Caroline Canning, president of LSA Student Government, encouraged the Board to approve the proposal as a crucial step in restoring campus interconnectedness and improving spaces for students to develop leadership skills and relationships.

During public comments, Canning teared up as she addressed the significance of her University experience. She expressed her hope that these renovations can provide spaces for personal development of future students.

“We need to invest in the brick and mortar that make our college experiences so unique,” Canning said.

After the projects were approved, Canning said she was excited for what the renovations will bring to University students in the future. Although Canning will graduate this year, Building a Better Michigan will work with the administration to use students’ ideas for the renovations.

“Spaces on campus aren’t just spaces; spaces are where college experiences really unfold,” Canning said. “We want to keep the historical nature of these old buildings, but I think the modern Michigan student deserves more.”

Canning added that, over Fall Break, she and other members of Building a Better Michigan traveled to Ohio State University and Purdue University, among others, to gain inspiration from their unions and recreational centers.

Susan Pile, director of the Michigan Union, said the focus of the Union renovations would be increasing collaborative spaces for students with particular attention to the needs of organizations. While renovations to Mitchell Fields and other recreational facilities are scheduled to begin next summer, an architect will be selected for the Union article in the next year.

“I think it will be spaces that really play into the tradition of the Michigan Union but taking them a step further and the innovative experience we have at Michigan and how that can be developed within the Union itself,” Pile said.

A great deal of the work will focus on updating the Union’s nearly 95-year-old piping, electrical systems and infrastructure. Pile added that it’s unclear whether the Union can remain open during the renovation process given safety concerns. It is also unknown what impact the large-scale renovations will have on the vendors in the basement.

Regent Denise Ilitch (D) expressed her excitement for supporting the renovation after comments from Canning and two other students.

“Your positions and words made a big difference,” Illitch said. “It mattered that a lot (students) came forward and said they would support this. Unions are so vibrant. They are our lifeblood and I’m so excited our students take such pride in it.”

Regent Julia Darlow (D) said students receiving need-based financial aid will have the student fee covered by aid packages.

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R) expressed concern about adding a student fee to fund the Union project.

She said there are many other facilities on campus that require repairs and said she would not support the fee for students without searching for other funding possibilities, though she supports the Union renovation process.

“If the students have a choice, then I would be more comfortable,” Newman said.

Regent Mark Bernstein (D) said unions are as much a part of the University experience as residence halls and academics.

“I grew up in this building and I don’t distinguish this project from the academic enterprise of the University,” Bernstein said.


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