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University to build graduate housing complex on Central Campus funded by largest donation in history

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 18, 2013

At the University’s Board of Regents meeting on Thursday, University President Mary Sue Coleman announced the construction of a new residence hall for graduate students.

Funded in part by a $110 million gift from University alum Charles Munger — the largest single donation to the University in its history — the residence hall will focus on creating a community for graduate students from multiple disciplines. The project will cost $180 million, the remainder funded by University Housing lease revenue. Munger is the vice president of Berkshire Hathaway, a global holding company. His estimated net worth as of 2013 is $1.1 billion.

The gift also includes a $10-million donation for fellowships to help create a residential society to promote conversation and collaboration among students.

The University received a $50 million donation to the LSA Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program from the Zell Family Foundation in March, making the last two flagship donations dedicated to graduate programs.

The residence hall will be home to 600 graduate students in a 370,000-square-foot, eight-story building located on Central Campus between South Division and Thompson streets — a space partially occupied by the recently acquired Blimpy Burger property. The eighth floor will feature gathering spaces, a fitness center with a running track and a “Fellows’ Room” with a panoramic view of the campus and downtown.

In an interview Thursday, Timothy Slottow, the University’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said Munger and the University jointly identified the site, and that the donor has been actively involved in the project design.

Slottow added that discussions of building the new residence hall began about a year ago when Munger expressed his fascination with solving the challenge of creating functional graduate student housing.

“He simply inspired the idea, and, of course, we were interested, but we simply could not do it without his help,” Slottow said.

He added Munger hopes to create a unique space for graduate students since undergraduate housing has been the University’s primary focus in recent years.

“Graduate students, as he says, do have extremely busy and challenging intellectual lives which leads to a lot of solitary study, and having a high quality living arrangement with high quality living and community spaces would be terrific in a location that is just prime,” Slottow said.

Currently, the Northwood Apartments on North Campus are the only non-staff housing spaces available for graduate students.

“Most universities do not take a community-like approach, and this project envisions an approach that makes graduate study less isolated,” Coleman said. “We see this as a revolutionary concept and an exciting opportunity for us to nurture graduate education within our ecosystem.”

Regent Andrea Fischer Newman (R—Ann Arbor) echoed Coleman, saying Michigan will be the only university to have a residential hall option for graduate students.

Newman added that one of the purposes of the regents’ January trip to California was to speak with Munger.

“This was one of the reasons we went to Los Angeles,” Munger said. “His involvement and interest is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and we’re just thrilled. This will set Michigan apart from every other University in the country with dedicated graduate housing across disciplines.”

The regents approved the purchases of four properties in the area between West Quad Residence Hall and the Perry Building to create space for the residence hall. The $3.16 million purchase will acquire properties at 535 and 537 South Division Street and 401 and 409 East Madison Street, which are registered to former Athletic Director Bill Martin.