Future generations of University students may soon reap the benefits of renovated buildings and student spaces if a vision by campus leaders and University officials to drastically improve campus buildings becomes reality.
A group of student leaders, University officials and architecture consultants from around the nation gathered on Saturday for a Student Vision Retreat — an event held to discuss ways to improve the University’s unions and recreational sports facilities before the University’s bicentennial in 2017.
Saturday’s discussion marked the beginning of a phase of student input that is being facilitated by Michigan Student Assembly President DeAndree Watson and student leaders. After evaluating student feedback, the Division of Student Affairs intends to draft a plan for the design, construction and funding of the renovations.
At the start of the discussions, Watson encouraged students to incorporate their experience on campus into the vision for improving buildings such as the Michigan Union, Michigan League and Pierpont Commons.
“Think about what issues exist today and how a student would respond to those 20 to 30 years from now (and) what should be in place for these students to have a worthwhile campus experience for the future,” Watson said.
Loren Rullman, associate vice president for student affairs, attended the retreat and said he has been evaluating the conditions of buildings on campus for the past few years to determine potential renovations that could enhance student life.
As a part of the process, the University has conducted numerous surveys and focus groups, collaborated with consultants and sent representatives to tour other universities around the nation for inspiration on how to design the buildings.
Rullman said during the event that while the University values strengthening academic programs and initiatives, it also places importance on enhancing the campus atmosphere to meet the increasing needs of the growing student body.
“We are totally committed to the student experience,” he said. “We know that what happens in the classroom is critical, but we also happen to believe that the learning, the experience, the interactions we have outside the classroom is really what defines and creates the Michigan experience.”
During the event, planners and architects from consultant groups that have been working with the University on potential renovation plans shared their designs with students and encouraged feedback on their ideas.
Greg Havens, planner and architect for Sasaki Associates in Watertown, MA., presented the results of a recreational sports study, which identified potential improvements for the three recreational facilities at the University — the Central Campus Recreation Building, the Intramural Sports Building and the North Campus Recreation Building.
The study calls for the improvement and expansion of outdoor field space with upgraded turf, revitalization of the Intramural Sports Building and a focus on student and faculty well-being and fitness.
The study also highlighted the lack of space in the University’s gyms and sports facilities. With over 41,000 students currently enrolled, the designs of the facilities allot six square feet per student. However, the industry standard is eight to 10 square feet per student, according to the study.
Haven proposed adding 134,000 square feet to the facilities, with about 84 percent, or 112,560 square feet, of the total additional space allocated to the North Campus Recreational Building and the remaining portion to the Central Campus Recreational Building.
At the retreat, Public Policy senior Nina Bhattacharya voiced her concern about the lack of dance spaces at the University’s gym facilities. As a member of the Maya Dance Team, she said her team frequently has to practice in front of the posting hall in Angell Hall and use the windows as makeshift mirrors.
A University Unions study — presented by the Milwaukee-based firm Workshop Architects — found that the League, Pierpont Commons and the Union were lacking spaces that integrate student needs such as all-purpose dining, socializing and studying.
Jan van den Kieboom, owner and lead architect of Workshop Architects, commented on the quiet atmosphere that most people encounter when first entering the main doors in the Union, which he said contrasts with bustling student unions at other universities.
To remedy this and other outdated features, the University Unions study recommended transforming the main floor to create a more engaging area for students, completely renovating the building’s lower level and turning the outdoor courtyard into a glass atrium and performance space while keeping the history and unique architecture intact.
Both studies also drew attention to the opportunity North Campus presents in improving student life facilities, largely due to the physical space available on North Campus.
Van den Kieboom specifically noted the diverse and artistic atmosphere of North Campus and the need for a common building that more succinctly brings students from an array of disciplines together.
“North Campus has got this kind of funky ethos of creativity and a need to be revitalized with a kind of building that would really draw students, that has strong destination qualities,” Van den Kieboom said. “We see Pierpont Commons as having a real opportunity to do something completely different than what we now have.”
In an interview after the event, Rullman said he felt the students were enthusiastic and dedicated to creating a better student experience for the future generations of students. He said he was especially impressed with their response since many of them will not be here when the renovations actually take place.
“I was really impressed with that sense of legacy and tradition and responsibility,” Rullman said.