East Quad to open for fall semester following renovations

By Aaron Guggenheim, Managing News Editor
Published August 15, 2013

After over a year’s worth of construction that left little of the original interior, East Quadrangle Residence Hall will see students move back in for the 2013 fall semester.

The hall closed in May 2012 for $116 million of extensive upgrades as part of the larger Residential Life Initiative that started with the renovation of the Mosher Jordan Residence Hall in 2005, with construction on a residence hall completed every successive year.

University Housing facilities — consisting of 18 residence halls and managed properties — houses students in 4.7 million square feet, representing 16 percent of the total square footage operated by the University.

The renovations, which at the completion of the project have totaled to a $626.2 million investment, are financed by University Housing funds from student room and board fees. The renovations of numerous other University buildings and properties have been partially funded by large donations such as the $110 million pledge by Charles Munger, to the construction of a new graduate residence hall on Central Campus.

Gregory Wright, assistant director of planning and design for University Housing, said the renovations to residential housing are meant to give students the amenities — including up-to-date and energy-efficient electrical and plumbing systems — that they have come to expect from the residential living experience.

“What we are doing here is what most universities are providing now but we are at a little bit of a disadvantage because our buildings are heritage buildings, they have been around for a quite a while,” Wright said.

East Quad, which will house 856 students in 329 double and 192 single rooms, was first opened in 1940 with additions built in 1948 and 1969. In 1969 it became home to the Residential College, an interdisciplinary liberal arts program, and in 1999 it housed the Michigan Community Scholars Program, a residential learning community.

Before the renovation, the building experienced an asbestos outbreak and the facilities, though well maintained, held the wear and tear of 70 years of constant use.

The dorm now has 10 to 15 flexible classroom spaces along with 10 separate study lounges to facilitate group and independent study, a Computer Learning Center — consisting of a mix of 27 Macs and PCs — and a game room outfitted with a ping-pong table, pool table and foosball table.

About $3.3 million, separate from the $116 million cost of renovation, was spent to furnish both the residential and public areas of East Quad, with most of the old furniture going toward other locations in the University Housing system.

Many of these lounges and the CLC are in what used to be the basement of East Quad, which has been renovated to include more windows in an effort to better use the space.

“We didn’t want it to look and feel like a basement because nobody wants to work in the basement, take classes in the basement and that was what was happening before,” Wright said.

The update to the basement did not include the Halfway Inn — a room often used by the East Quad Music Cooperative — among other groups, to hold events and concerts.

Housing spokesman Peter Logan said University Housing made the decision after listening to student input.

“We did listen to (students) concerns but we just felt that in the long haul, we needed to create a better dining experience and we needed that space to build out a new kitchen where a lot of the primary preparation could be done,” Logan said.

While the layout for the public areas of the building, including the Keene Theater and the classrooms, has been simplified, the residential area has remained the same.

However, the rooms have been updated to include WiFi and controlled heating and air conditioning, while eight beds have been set aside for a gender-inclusive living arrangement.

The new layout also enhances security by creating separate public and residential spheres, equipping all the entrances with cameras and outfitting doors to different areas with Mcard scanners to accommodate for the variety of people who need access to the building.

Heightened security and student safety were also a high priority when planning the renovation.

Of late, students living in the University Housing System have been subject to a variety of crimes ranging from theft to a sexual assault at West Quadrangle Residence Hall last January.

“We had to gear the security levels, what is open and what is behind doors based on that,” Wright said. “It was a bit of a challenge but it all worked out.”

But Logan said the greatest security threat generally comes when students hold doors open for people who they do not know.

“The best of electronic security systems falls by the wayside when a student, politely, opens the door for anybody,” Logan said.

As for the dining, East Quad now has a café meant to serve as a complement to the main dining hall, which can serve 340 students at once.

The new dining hall continues the focus on increasing the purchase of local foods, which now constitute 16 percent of the $8.6 million budget spent on food, and features micro restaurants, including a vegan option, that will plate items, which is similar to dining at North Quadrangle Residence Hall.

These efforts are intended to reduce food waste and will be accompanied by a gradual transition to trayless dining throughout the University dining system.

Head Chef Buzz Cummings, who has worked at East Quad for seven years, said he was excited to have an updated kitchen. He has spent most of the last three weeks training new staff and student workers and testing dishes.

“It was like, I woke up and every morning was Christmas morning and there are plenty of chef toys under the Christmas tree and everyday we played with a different one,” Cummings said.

With the renovation of East Quad now complete, the University will continue the renovation of South Quadrangle Residence Hall before completing its years-long project to update its student living arrangements with the renovation of West Quad.