Donn Fresard
A rendering of the new atrium planned for the redesigned Student Activities Building.

Think back to your first impression of the University while visiting as a high school junior or senior. For many, it’s not the Diag, Angell Hall, the Michigan Union or even the Big House. 

It’s the Student Activities Building – the University’s visitor center and the starting point of campus tours for prospective students.

With that in mind, the University Board of Regents greenlighted plans for an $8.5-million redesign of the building at its monthly meeting yesterday.

According to Chris Lucier, senior associate director of admissions, the building serves as the University’s gateway to tens of thousands of prospective students and their families.

“For many prospective students, a visit to the SAB forms an impression of the University of Michigan which will influence their decisions of whether or not to apply to U of M,” Lucier said.

The 40,000-square-foot project will mostly renovate the interior, leaving the outside virtually the same. The goal is to make the building more user-friendly, including increasing the size of the visitor center and adding technology such as multimedia presentations.

The most noticeable change may be the creation of an auditorium dubbed the maize-and-blue room, which will primarily be used to screen presentations to tour groups. To get to the auditorium, visitors will walk down a hallway with a floor-to-ceiling mural depicting the University’s marching band.

Another improvement will be increasing ease of entry from the doors on Maynard Street and on East Jefferson Street and making it clear where visitors should go after entering.

“What doesn’t exist now is an ability to walk in the building and figure out where you’re supposed to go,” said Diane Brown, University facilities and operations spokeswoman.

A new reception desk opposite the entrance will make that clear. “It’s going to be obvious that you go up to that desk,” Brown said.

New windows will allow visitors to see the courtyard behind the building while standing in the atrium, which is the main part of the structure. The courtyard is currently only visible through a few windows in a conference room, Brown said.

Construction is scheduled to begin next fall and to continue through summer 2008. The building will stay open during that time, using internal space to house temporarily displaced offices.

The architectural firm is Gensler Architecture, Design and Planning of Detroit.

Built in 1959, the building has had two previous additions. The first came in 1960, and the second was the 1996 addition of the Huetwell Visitor’s Center.

In addition to serving as a place for visitors, the building houses the Office of Financial Aid, Univeristy Housing and the Mcard office.

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