Rackham renovation to be OK''d

BY ANNA CLARK
Daily News Writer
Published April 10, 2001

In 1935, former University President Alexander Ruthven asked for a building that would be "the very heart of the campus." Judging by the reactions of the current University community as it looks toward the major renovations set to close the Horace H. Rackham Building for up to two years, it looks like Ruthven got what he asked for.

"It"s a landmark on campus," said University planner Fred Mayer. "It"s a great old building that just needs some upgrading."

"It"s an absolute old treasure," echoed Homer Rose, Rackham assistant dean for academic programs. "It"s a part of the life of the campus, so the life of the campus will be changed for a couple years."

The building that saw Jonas Salk"s original announcement of the polio vaccine on its auditorium stage is scheduled to close early next month for the second phase of an extensive renovation initiative, pending the University"s Board of Regents" authorization of the $24.2 million project at their regular meeting tomorrow.

While an earlier, nearly completed phase targeted exterior work, including roof repairs, terrace work and safety issues, the second phase will upgrade all major infrastructure, with specific improvements to the ground, first and third floors. Technology upgrading will also be a major focus of the project.

The auditorium will not be altered in this phase, said Facilities and Operations spokeswoman Diane Brown, but it will likely be improved by the building"s enhanced mechanical systems.

Brown added that there are currently no plans for renovations beyond this phase.

No substantial changes will affect Rackham"s art deco exterior a style that was fashionable in the 1930s during the building"s construction.

"I don"t think too many people would be happy if there was any change to the style of the building," Mayer said.

All Rackham offices including those of the deans, the Office of Graduate Admissions and the Michigan Quarterly Review are being relocated to two separate locations: the Argus Building on the corner of Fourth and West William streets, and a location at 413 East Huron Street.

"That"s going to be a complication," Rose said.

Rose, whose new office will be in the Argus Building, said the location will take some getting used to.

"For those of us used to being on Central Campus, that"s going to seem fairly remote," Rose said. "The Argus Building is still in Ann Arbor, but it feels pretty west to me."

The effects of Rackham"s closing will extend beyond the graduate school"s offices. Performances and other events that regularly use the Rackham Auditorium and Amphitheater are temporarily losing an important venue.

University Musical Society Programming Director Michael Kondziolka said the loss of Rackham will make the struggle for venues among area and campus groups even more competitive.

"It"s going to be tight," Kondziolka said. "It always is."

But Kondziolka added that UMS sees the closing of Rackham as "a huge opportunity."

"It"s really forced us to think creatively about the presentation of concerts," he said.

Kondziolka said UMS has scheduled events in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, the Power Center for the Performing Arts and the Michigan Theater. He added that UMS is not afraid to use off-campus venues.

"We have to look elsewhere," he said. "What"s great about it is that it opens the possibility of reaching new audiences."

University Productions Manager Shannon Rice said other student groups will need to be similarly proactive in exploring alternative options.

Rice said she expects venues such as area churches and high schools, the University Museum of Art, the Michigan League and Union, and outdoor areas to be used much more heavily.

She also suggested that groups will need to explore different times of year for events, noting that Hill Auditorium was nearly empty in February.

This is the first major renovation in Rackham"s history. The building joins a host of other historic campus buildings that are undergoing substantial changes, including Mason and Haven halls. The Literature, Science and the Arts Building is scheduled for renovations in 2002-2003. The University has allotted $30 million for improvements to Hill Auditorium in the next few years, but there are not any concrete plans to begin the project.