At the May 16 meeting of the University’s Board of Regents, the Building a Better Michigan campaign will push the University to embark upon a multi-year renovation of University unions and recreational facilities. Though the project’s expected cost isn’t cheap — an estimated $135 million on improvements — it’s a necessary undertaking. Recent reports from the architecture firm Integrated Design Solutions confirm the poor conditions of the unions and gyms and the inadequate resources they offer the student body. From crumbling tiles in the showers of the Central Campus Recreation Building to the insufficient meeting spaces in the Michigan Union, the BBM has a proposal to address serious flaws of common facilities on campus. The regents should support the proposal and student facilities upgrades, reaffirming the board’s commitment to quality buildings supporting a quality campus.
According to BBM’s report, the campus’s recreational sports facilities and unions are some of the most heavily trafficked buildings at the University. A survey of 10,000 students estimated 96 percent of students use the unions on campus, while 76 percent use recreational facilities like the CCRB. With high use comes high wear and tear, and BBM looks to improve the existing damage and poor designs. The plan calls for major renovations to the CCRB, including a 26,000 square-foot addition, increased workout equipment and air conditioning for the summer months. Under the proposal, student organization spaces would expand, with more common space added near the Union’s designated area for student group offices. As organizations across campus continue to increase collaborative efforts, the improvements to the Union’s meeting spaces would allow for more frequent interaction. Furthermore, the renovations to recreational facilities can attract prospective students to campus while enhancing the experience of current students. No one likes a crowded gym.
The proposal seeks funding through a combination of student fees and University support. In BBM’s plan, a fee of $65 per term would be added to tuition for the next 30 years. Compared to other Big 10 schools, this fee is relatively low: Fees for union and recreation center improvements at Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota were more than twice that. Given the frequent use of the buildings, along with their deficient states — the IDS reported that all three unions were in “poor conditions” in 2008 — the comparatively moderate tuition increase is worth the price.
However, there are several concerns about the project that must be addressed. If the University decides to spend millions of dollars on the renovations, then long-term durability should be a top priority for all facilities. Additionally, many of the buildings being renovated — notably the Union and the Intramural Sports Building — are historical landmarks. Those buildings’ architecture must be preserved to the greatest extent possible during the renovation. Moreover, the project comes at a time when it seems construction is occurring on nearly every block at the University. In order to ensure that all buildings are usable in the fall and winter terms, the project must stick to its commitment to having construction occur only during summer months.
If the regents approve the project, BBM must also keep the University community up to date on its progress. Given the importance of the University unions and recreational sports facilities to students, faculty and the greater Ann Arbor community, this renovation would be a worthy investment in the future of the University and student experience.