When University President Mary Sue Coleman announced plans last October to demolish the Frieze Building and replace it with a new residence hall, many Ann Arbor residents said they were caught off guard. Since then, local groups and some members of the University Board of Regents have increasingly voiced objections that, because of the building’s historic significance, portions of it should be saved.
Citizens will have an opportunity to discuss these concerns with administrators at a meeting Jan. 13 at the Michigan League.
“We hadn’t had any indication that the University was planning to demolish the Frieze Building; we didn’t know how to feel about it,” said Norman Tyler, a professor of planning and preservation at Eastern Michigan University who opposes the University’s plans.
“A project like that, it takes a little while to try and understand what the impact will be. It took us by surprise.”
In addition to members of the community, some regents have expressed concerns about the project and have said they believe an alternative should be found.
“Re-using a portion of the building may not be economically feasible,” said Regent Katherine White (D-Ann Arbor). “But the architectural firm chosen for the project should at least consider the idea. If the University does not bring forward ideas to save a portion of the Frieze Building to the architects, (the architects) are not going to consider the proposition.”
Coleman’s October announcement introduced plans to tear down the existing Frieze Building and build a new residence hall — the first in 37 years — along with a variety of different classroom facilities. But regents have not yet approved this project because it is still in the early stages of development, White said.
The Frieze Building is the site of the old Ann Arbor High School, which was built in 1907.
Many proponents of preservation said they hope the architects for the new building will be able to save the original outside wall of the building as well as the Carnegie Library inside, which Coleman also wants to preserve.
“I think everyone agrees that, given the condition of the building, it needs some renovation. It’s not a question of whether it needs renovation, but a question of whether it is saved. We want to keep that part of the history of Ann Arbor,” said
Christine Crockett, the president of the Old Fourth Ward Association and a member of the U of M Neighbors Committee, which serves as a liaison between the University and Ann Arbor neighborhoods.
The University has acknowledged the concerns and is responding in various ways. In addition to communicating with the individual groups, the University will hear other concerns regarding the Frieze Building at the forum Thursday.
“It is important to many people in the Ann Arbor community to save a portion of the Frieze Building,” White said. “These concerns should be considered in developing plans for a new residence hall and academic building at the site.”
White also said she hopes the University will take local residents suggestions into account when an architect is appointed and official plans are developed.
The University has yet to choose an architect for the project, but the University’s director of community relations, Jim Kosteva, said the administration hopes to do so before the regents’ meeting on January 26. The original date to have made a selection was in December but was postponed.
Members of the community said they hope the University will be careful in choosing an architect.
“Whatever we see built there, we want to see good architecture,” Crockett said. “I would like to see the University hire a really good architect who understands and appreciates historic buildings and knows how to design compatible additions.”
Concerned citizens like Crockett say they will continue to express their concerns to the University during regents’ meetings and other forums. Crockett said local groups will send out postcards and make phone calls to encourage citizens to come to the meeting next Thursday.