After spending a year planning and gathering student input, Building a Better Michigan — a group of students and administrators dedicated to improving the University’s unions and recreation centers — will take its first steps toward campus-wide renovations with its plans to address the University’s Board of Regents on Thursday.
Over the course of the semester, the group has visited peer universities to garner ideas to implement on the University’s campus and polled a variety of students to identify problems and draft plans. LSA junior Louis Mirante said that though Building a Better Michigan will not explicitly advocate for any specific model when it addresses the regents at their meeting this week, the group has put together a preliminary 20-year, $60-million proposal based on issues and concerns raised by students, emphasizing that the plan is “not set in stone.”
According to a polling of 1,537 students conducted by the program management firm Brailsford & Dunlavey earlier this year, 87 percent of students said they considered improvements to University unions and recreation center to be a priority. Additionally, 67 percent of students said they would support a $100 fee per semester for the renovations and 58 percent said they would support a fee between $150 and $200.
While the plan could increase University tuition, Mirante said students at other schools often pay more than $150 for recreational sports or unions.
“Right now Purdue (students) pays about $235 per year for their rec buildings, which is below the national average, and we don’t pay anything,” Mirante said.
Still, Mirante cautioned that the potential fees are only based on the renovations proposed by Building a Better Michigan, which are still subject to change.
LSA senior Caroline Canning, president of LSA Student Government, said in an October interview that the first phase, which will last seven to 10 years, would address mainly the Michigan Union and the Central Campus Recreation Building and, to a lesser extent, the Intramural Sports Building, Pierpont Commons and the North Campus Recreation Building in addition to adding artificial turf and fencing to Mitchell Field on Fuller Road.
Phase two would address the Michigan League and finishing renovations to the Intramural Sports Building, and phase three would involve the complete rebuilding of Pierpont Commons to convert it into a combined union and recreation center.
“So phase two and three are very far in the future,” LSA senior Peter Wasky said in October. “We’re definitely trying to include that in our plan to show that we really do view this as a complete package, but just within the financial constraints that the University is under right now, it’s not feasible to do all six buildings at once.”
During Fall Break, Building a Better Michigan organized a two-day trip, free to any student, to visit unions and recreation centers at Ohio State University, Purdue University and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
Canning said all three universities had either recently renovated their unions or recreation centers, or that their buildings had features the group felt would be important to consider for their future plans. Purdue’s recreation centers had been open for less than a week since renovations had taken place during BBM’s Fall Break tour.
In particular, Canning and Wasky noted some of the recreation centers they visited were a hub for student life rather than just a place for students to exercise.
“One thing that we saw that I was really struck by is all of the rec facilities that we saw had demo kitchens in them and wellness suites where you can go and talk to a nutritionist,” Wasky said.
Canning added that some of the recreation buildings had counseling offices comparable to the University’s Counseling and Psychological Services and the Sexual Assault Prevention & Awareness Center located within them, in addition to other locations on campus.
While Canning said there is less space at the University’s recreation centers than at similar buildings at peer colleges, the problem arises is how the space is utilized.
“For the union, we went to Ohio State where the building wasn’t much larger,” she said. “It felt as if it was two times larger than our union just because how the layout was structured, the different types of rooms that were there, the floor plan.”
Wasky said one feature of the OSU union that he would like to see incorporated at the University is the ability to see multiple floors at once. He said an open vertical space stretching from the basement to the third floor of the Michigan Union has been discussed.
Canning added that having a 24-hour access area of the OSU union was another feature she would like to see at the Michigan Union.
Nonetheless, Mirante said not every feature the group saw on the tour can be incorporated into the buildings at the University.
“It’s not a copy and paste type of project,” he said. “We went to go find some elements of other buildings that would inspire a type of design that would fit with the history of our buildings and the needs of our students.”