For some students living comfortably on Central Campus, North Campus is, and perhaps always will be, unexplored territory. The mystery of what lays there isn’t enough to endure the inevitable bus ride north.
But for the many who call North Campus their home away from home, entering the area can either be an escape from the hustle-bustle of Central Campus or a barrier that separates them from the fun and excitement and vibrancy of the rest of Ann Arbor.
“It’s just nice. There are lots of grass and trees and it’s maybe a bit of a hideaway from the stress of Central Campus,” LSA sophomore Oyin Olowokere said, adding that classes, homework and exams make her trips to Central Campus less enjoyable. “When I’m up here, I don’t feel that stress. … It’s very easygoing and you just take your time with everything.”
Olowokere is one of more than 2,000 students who live on North Campus, either in Vera Baits Houses or Bursley Residence Hall, the largest residence hall at the University.
She spent her first year living on Central Campus and has had the chance to taste both ways of life.
Every morning she goes to the front of the residence hall and waits for the bus to come and carry her down Bonisteel Boulevard and Fuller Street until it reaches its Central Campus destination at the C.C. Little Building, but she said North Campus is where she wants to be at the end of the day.
“I think on Central Campus, they think everybody’s main concern is, ‘How am I going to get to Central Campus?'” she said. “But it’s not like that.”
But not everyone who lives on the sprawling campus shares Olowokere’s appreciation for the area.
“There is no way I am living on North Campus again. … It sucks to wait for the bus and it sucks that all my classes are on (Central) Campus. It’s not fair,” said LSA freshman Laura Naughton, late for class and stuck waiting at the bus stop outside Bursley.
“If I was in the Engineering school, then I’d have more positive things to say,” she added.
Like many students, Naughton said she feels North Campus is too disconnected from the rest of the University and that, because of the bus schedule and its distance from the downtown area, living there makes it difficult to participate in activities other students easily enjoy.
Aware of those concerns, University officials have made North Campus a topic of discussion, focusing their attention on developing ideas to make the area more convenient and comfortable for students.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of people about it. They think it is beautiful, but it needs more activity,” University President Mary Sue Coleman said, adding that she and others are working to discover ways to draw more people to the area, which now attracts a relatively narrow population of engineering, architecture, music and art school students.
“Within the next few years, we’ll have an opportunity to really engage in the future of North Campus and to decide what is next,” Coleman added.
As open space on Central Campus disappears more and more, some people are predicting that North Campus will become a hot spot for new construction projects, and members of the University community are discussing several options. “There are possibilities. There is a lot of land … there are a lot of ideas,” Coleman said. “We need to find ways to capitalize on its unique features. It’s a great asset for the University.
“There is a possibility of finally achieving a critical mass of activities and destinations,” said Douglas Kelbaugh, dean of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. “It’s a very exciting moment right now for the North Campus.”
Kelbaugh and others, including deans, students and executive officers, have been working on creating alternative plans for the future of North Campus.
Although the group’s plans vary from the University’s master plan for the area, Kelbaugh said he hopes development occurs regardless of which plan is chosen.
“I would hope there will be additional schools and colleges located on the North Campus with more dorms and possibly a residential college,” he said, adding that he would like to see the quadrangle around Lurie Tower finished off with retail shops. “The atmosphere would be more like Central Campus, but instead of being surrounded by urban fabric, it would be surrounded by nature.”
The possibilities addressed in Kelbaugh’s plans include moving the Fleming Building and Wolverine Tower personnel to North Campus, as well as planting the Walgreen Drama Center and Arthur Miller Theater, a new residence hall and a meditation chapel in the central area of North Campus.
Several of those possibilities, including the Arthur Miller Theater and the new residence hall, are being considered in the University’s official master plan for the campus, said Hank Baier, associate vice president of facilities and operations. It has not been decided when or where they will be built, he added.
The residence hall has been in preliminary planning stages since Feb. 2001, but except for its general location on North Campus, little is known about it, Baier said. “I envision that a few years down the road, there will probably be a new residence hall on North Campus,” he said, adding that it will most likely have 400 to 500 students. “I think you will hear more about it as we get farther along.”
Started as one of former University President Lee Bollinger’s top initiatives in 1997, The Walgreen Drama Center, which would comprise the Arthur Miller Theater, was once expected to appear next to the Power Center for the Performing Arts, near the site of the Life Sciences Institute. But those plans were put on hold after the project’s estimated cost rose from $18 million to $67 million.
Baier said it’s now likely the complex will be on North Campus, a strategical move designed to attract more students to the area. “We’d like to make it more bustling, more vibrant, more lively,” he said. “Should we create a performance center, that will add to the excitement.”
Already, several projects seen on the master plan are in the final stages of development. Many of those projects deal with a three-tier expansion of the College of Engineering, an expansion of the Bentley Historical Society and a renovation of Pierpont Commons, among several other projects focusing on making the distance between campuses seem smaller.
“There are things we are working on. We have talked about having various kinds of programs and services based on the north campus,” said Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Lester Monts. “Having certain magnet-type programs that will attract people from the central campus to the north campus and visa versa are things we are looking at. There is no way we can squeeze the space.”
Though those projects are all in the works or gearing up toward construction, Baier stressed that the University’s master plan for North Campus will never be finalized.
“We are continuing to work on the master plan. It’s a continuing process,” he said, adding that students’ concerns, such as those involving the quality and convenience of life on North Campus, are a major part of the University’s planning process.
“There was a lot of interaction with students and faculty. What was expressed was that people would like to have more amenities on North Campus,” he said. “We are headed in that direction.”
North Campus was first created under the presidencies of Alexander Ruthven and Harlan Hatcher, but it wasn’t until the presidency of James Duderstadt that the construction, expansion and relocation of the College of Engineering was finally completed.
According to a book currently being written by Duderstadt, who stepped down from the presidency in 1996 and is now a professor for the University’s Millennium Project, the University made the decision to build a separate campus off of its central campus because of increased enrollment following the war.
“As enrollments continued to expand, the University launched a series of planning exercises that considered the relocation of additional academic programs to the North Campus,” he added. “One plan envisioned growth of the University to perhaps as many as 100,000 students, with the North Campus becoming one of a chain of campuses.”
The Phoenix Memorial Laboratory, the School of Music and the School of Architecture and Design were among the first to appear on North Campus, along with Pierpont Commons in 1963 and the School of Art in 1972.
Bursley Residence Hall and Vera Baits Houses were both completed in 1967. Development on North Campus continued under Duderstadt’s supervision in the 1980s and 1990s, including the 1996 completion of the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Tower and the Media Union.
“It was now home to four major schools and over 14,000 students. It made important architectural statements. Its rare blend of creative disciplines began to suggest a new name adopted by several of the deans: “The Renaissance Campus,” Duderstadt wrote.
But he adds that construction and expansion of North Campus was halted during the administration of his predecessor, former University President Lee Bollinger.
“I commissioned a major new master plan for the North Campus … designed to add much of the human experience of the Central Campus. Unfortunately my successor in the presidency, Lee Bollinger, decided to halt these projects and largely ignored the further needs of the North Campus,” Duderstadt writes.
Other University officials say North Campus has been a continuous focus of campus concern and expansion.
“I think you have to look back 10 years and see what was there then and what is there now. We are really trying to create a sense of community up there,” Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Lester Monts said. “Many of the things that you now see on the North Campus weren’t there 10 years ago. The University is investing in North Campus and facilities up there.”