Trotter site prompts mixed responses

Wednesday, January 6, 2016 - 7:39pm

For several residents of Betsy Barbour and Helen Newberry residence halls, the planned relocation of the Trotter Multicultural Center from its current location on Washtenaw Avenue to the heart of campus on State Street — in front of their residences — brings both concerns and perceived benefits.

LSA sophomore Laurel Dearborn, who lives in Newberry, said she had several logistical concerns about the project.

“I just feel like putting that building there takes away from the quaintness of Barbour/Newberry, and how it feels like a nice small community,” she said.

She added that she thought the construction of the multicultural center would add considerable traffic and commotion to a small area.

“I worry a lot about the future … people won’t necessarily have the same nice, safe, quaint, homey experience that I did because I feel like that space is a very quintessential part of our community,” Dearborn said.

Dearborn also noted that both Newberry and Barbour are historic landmarks and have strong ties for current and past students, citing Newberry's February 100th-anniversary celebration, which was well attended by alumni.

“To put a building right in front of them seems like they’re taking away from the character of the buildings and the charm and not allowing the community to see these beautiful architectural pieces,” she said.

An LSA freshman who holds leadership positions both within the Barbour/Newberry Hall Council and Trotter, and requested to remain anonymous due to concerns of termination from her position, echoed Dearborn’s concerns.

“It just doesn’t seem feasible or rational,” she said of the new building’s location, citing the small space the new location will provide. “Logistically it’s going to be very small because the space they’re using is very small.”

She added that building the multicultural center on the Barbour/Newberry lawn could take the space away from the dorms’ residents and weaken community, noting that the Barbour/Newberry Hall Council plans events for residents on the lawn and residents often study in the space.

She did, however, say the new Trotter location might provide Barbour/Newberry residents with special educational opportunities and programming. She added that as an active member of the current Trotter community, she is appreciative of the University’s efforts to increase accessibility to the multicultural center, and her concern is with the specific location chosen.

Both Newberry residents also expressed frustration with the University administration’s apparent lack of communication with the Barbour/Newberry communities.

Dearborn said it would have been helpful if administrative officials had held open meetings with Barbour and Newberry residents, explaining what the new building would look like and allowing students to raise concerns.

“I felt like as a community we were kind of left in the dark a lot about this,” Dearborn said. “I feel like I would be a lot more open to this idea if I felt like the board when they were voting on this had maybe considered how it would affect our community more.”

According to residents of the halls, they were notified of the changes in a Dec. 17 e-mail sent by E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, on the same day the project was approved by the University’s Board of Regents.

“We know how special this location is to you as well, which is why we will be designing the new center to be sensitive and compatible with the heritage of the neighborhood,” Royster-Harper told residents in the email obtained by The Michigan Daily.

In response to the concerns, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the confusion and uncertainty is a result of the early stage this project is still in, as the regents have not yet heard or approved a specific building design or construction plan.

“At this point it’s not possible to yet describe to anyone what it will look like because that’s what’s happening right now,” he said.

Fitzgerald added that he was confident future plans would take into account aspects of the location.

“We understand their concerns and I think that we need to let the design work take place and see what the architects and the designers will come up with and certainly I have great confidence that they’ll be sensitive to that site and that location,” he said.