After almost 100 years of being the center of campus with activities and events, dining and study areas, and as standing as a symbol of the University student body, the Michigan Union was bid farewell on Thursday.
The University of Michigan’s Office of Student Life hosted a Michigan Union Renovation Celebration, with performances, activities and art installations to bid a temporary farewell to one of the campus’ best-known buildings. The Union is set to close April 30 for an 18-month restorative renovation. The goal of the $85.2 million renovation is to “restore and reactivate the Michigan Union while maintaining its historic fabric.”
The Union event celebrated the building’s past, present and future. The event took over the Union’s spaces, transporting attendees back in time to its conception in 1919 in the Willis Ward Lounge with artifacts of the Union’s history. It also sent attendees into the future with a virtual reality tour in the Rogel Ballroom. The Union hosted open houses for services that call it home, including the Office Multi-Ethnic Student Affairs and the Office of Greek Life.
E. Royster Harper, vice president of Student Life, discussed the Union’s importance in the University’s history. She said the Union has seen sorrow and joy, and has been home to student gatherings both good and bad.
“The Union –– our union –– unites us in one place. It’s been everything a communal space it's designed to be … it’s become the cornerstone of our lives at Michigan,” Harper said. “Yet we often don’t quite realize how much we cherish it until we have to say goodbye; however, this isn’t a goodbye forever, it’s a goodbye for now.”
Kambiz Khalili, associate vice president for student life, has only been at the University for four months and said he already understands the importance of the Union as part of University culture. He said the needs of students today are different from the needs of students in 1919, and the Union must evolve with the times. The new building will emphasize collective spaces, no longer housing individual student organization offices.
“(The Union) has been taking care of the students and the community for 99 years, and now it’s time for us to take care of it,” Khalili said.
Jamie Alt, the program adviser for the Center for Campus Involvement and member of the renovation process’ programming committee, planned the event as a send-off for the building and for the students and the community to come together before the renovation. She said the new Union will provide a more collaborative space for students and organizations.
“This program is to help celebrate the Union past, present and future, and to send it off on a good foot onto its renovation period and let people see and be with it one last time before it goes through some major changes,” Alt said. “When it reopens it’s going to be much more student focused. We are going to have an idea hub for student orgs to work together and lots of other great spaces for programs.”
Susan Pile, senior director of University Unions and Auxiliary Services, is excited members of University community came to send the current Union off for its renovation later this month. She said she looks forward to the students’ relationship with the new Union and how they employ its vast amount of resources.
“I am excited about the vibrancy we are going to be creating throughout the first floor and the second level in a way that maintains the historic architecture (and) the historic character in the building in a way that links those two levels with visibility in a more vibrant way than before,” Pile said. “I think students are really going to resonate with these spaces –– the new courtyard (and) the new student involvement space.”
LSA freshman Clarice Lacey came to the event to learn more about the Union renovation and support the Ballroom Dance team. She said the Ballroom team depends on the Union, so she looks forward to seeing the team in the renovated Union.
“I love that (the current Union) has the space where a lot of student organizations get together and the new Union looks like it will enhance that,” Lacey said. “Because the Ballroom team uses this a lot, it’s really nice to come into the Union and see a bunch of different student organizations representing themselves.”
The “re-Union” will take place in winter 2020 after the $85.2 million renovation.