The University of Michigan’s plans to renovate the Michigan Union, which include creating easier access to the building for patrons with physical disabilities, have so far received overall positive feedback from students.
The 98-year-old Union — a haven of student offices, dining areas and large rooms for meetings, traditionally regarded as a centerpoint of campus — will be under construction as part of a large infrastructural renovation in the spring of 2018. An $85.2 million budget will go toward improving student study and lounge space in the building, as well as historical restoration.
The plan was approved by the Board of Regents on July 21, 2016 at its monthly meeting, a vote which approved the building’s most extensive renovations since its opening. The budget for the project comes from the $65 University Unions and Recreational Sports Facility Improvement Fee that all full time students started paying in 2014.
Susan Pile, senior director of University Unions and Auxiliary Services, said as of now there is no intention of increasing this fee due to additional funding from the University.
“That fee is set by the Board of Regents,” Pile said. “There is also funding coming from some other University sources such as Parking and Transportation and others to help shoulder the cost of the renovations but all that funding, all those funding sources are set at this point.”
LSA freshman Cindy Chu said she does not have a problem with the fee as it stands but expressed concern for lower-income students having to pay the fee.
“Relatively, $65 isn’t much so right now; I don’t see too much of an issue but if you’re one of those students struggling to make ends meet, then of course it’s more difficult to them,” Chu said. “I feel like some people should be exempt from (the fee) if they’re under financial strain.”
The largest issue with the Union right now, according to Pile, is the lack of comprehensive compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, which mandates that buildings not discriminate against people with disabilities and provide equal opportunities for access and travel through the building. Issues such as ramp access and elevators that reach all levels of the building are scheduled to be improved in the renovations.
Currently, the main levels and the mezzanine levels of the Union are not connected by one main passenger elevator, making travel between floors difficult for those with disabilities.
Pile also mentioned the handicapped ramp on the north end of the building needs renovation. After the construction, Pile said, the building will be much more accessible for all patrons.
“One of our challenges with a building that’s going to be 100 years old in 2019 is that it was built in a time that really didn’t need to take (physical disabilities) into consideration,” Pile said. “And that’s a commitment that we have today, to ensure that we’re going to be able to better address those needs and make a more inclusive community.”
Engineering freshman James Surge said the direct passenger elevators will contribute to the Union’s plan of inclusion for everyone.
“I approve of that,” he said. “It makes it easier for everyone to get around. If there’s one elevator that goes to all the floors, then everybody has equal access to the space.”
LSA freshman Alexandra Niforos said the fact that the improvements to handicapped resources haven’t been a larger issue earlier is concerning but the renovations are better late than never.
“I don’t know why we don’t have elevators right now that go all the way up to all the floors,” Niforos said. “But anyways, it’s good that they’re doing this.”
One of the largest spaces slated for renovation is the courtyard in the middle of the Union. According to Pile, the outdoor courtyard behind Starbucks will be covered and converted into a larger study space for students.
Niforos said the plan to build the ceiling over the courtyard closes off the Union’s connection to fresh air in the warmer months.
“I think it’s cute, the courtyard,” Niforos said. “I mean I’ve never been into it but I feel like we have enough rooms in this place that we can have one outdoor space.”
As of right now, Pile said there are no further plans for renovations after the $85 million is exhausted. Furthermore, she said as much will be done with the budget as possible.
“This isn’t a phased project,” Pile said. “This isn’t phase one of more to come. We’re spending the budget that we have and moving forward with that.”