It’s just a concept design at this point – three or four years away from becoming a reality – but last Wednesday University President Mary Sue Coleman voiced her support for a project that would bring together five of the premier organizations that study the Great Lakes.

It wasn’t the first time Coleman had put her support behind the project that if realized would bring together the Great Lakes Commission, the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, Michigan’s Institute for Fisheries Research, the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and the Great Lakes Science Center under one roof on North Campus.

By centralizing the different local and government environmental organizations, Coleman said she hopes the new center will strengthen efforts to preserve the Great Lakes.

Thomas Crane, interim executive director of the Great Lakes Commission, said that the University has been an active participant in the planning process, but Wednesday’s speech in the Michigan League ballroom was significant because Coleman spoke directly to the groups that would have space in the new research facility.

“Devoting our resources to Great Lakes research is one of the most effective ways the University of Michigan can be of service to the state of Michigan and the nation,” Coleman said in her speech.

“I’m pleased to tell you we are working with five Great Lakes organizations, based here in Ann Arbor, to develop a consolidated home on our campus for these 300 scientists and policy analysts.”

Electrical Engineering Prof. Fawwaz Ulaby will head the project. Ulaby was the vice president for research until he resigned last year. He estimated that about a quarter of the building would house labs where University faculty and students could assist with research.

Though the project is years away from a schematic design, Crane said he hoped to have auditoriums in the facility as well – not just for classes but also to bring in guest speakers.

Mark Gaden, a communications officer at the Great Lakes Fisheries Commission, is also a University graduate student in natural resources policy. He said that, in addition to fostering a better working atmosphere with the other organizations housed in the buildings, the center will help improve relationships with the University as well.

Ulaby declined to say which architecture firm he was working with or how much the project would cost. But he said that the project’s next step is to pick out a spot to build the research center and decide how to pay for it.

Ulaby said the challenge is figuring out how the other groups are going to work together.

For example, Ulaby said working out rent schedules could be difficult for a building that is home to five different organizations. There have also been technical problems.

Though Ulaby did not delve into specifics, he said a couple project participants questioned if they will even be able to enter into long-term lease agreements.

Crane said that he thought the project would be a huge success because of the collaborative advantages of having colleagues from other organizations readily available.

He envisioned discussions at the water cooler among experts from different backgrounds. But he said that rent could be a problem, especially for some of the smaller organizations.

“There will likely be an increase in facilitation costs in the short term, such as moving costs and monthly rent increase,” Crane said. “But if financing can be worked out, everything else can be a positive.”

Even with the positives, Ulaby said that the project is still far from coming into fruition.



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