More than 60 steps lead from a side door on the fourth floor of the Michigan Union to the roof of the Union’s tower. Along the way, three small rooms sit empty save for a few paint chips and bottles of abandoned cleaning supplies.
The spectacular view of campus from the tower and its central location should make the space prized property. But this piece of prime real estate has two key afflictions.
One is its lack of an elevator.
The other is its stigma.
It’s been nearly six years since the senior society Michigamua – which has since dropped its name – and its two affiliate organizations vacated their spaces in the tower.
In 2000, the Students of Color Coalition raided Michigamua’s space on the seventh floor and claimed to have found Native American relics that the group was allegedly appropriating in its rituals.
The group occupied the tower for 37 days.
Soon afterward, the societies Michigamua, Phoenix and the engineering honor society Vulcan agreed to leave the tower.
Andrew Yahkind, a member of the society who often speaks to the media on the group’s behalf, refused to comment on matters related to the tower.
Today, paint peels from the blank white walls of Michagamua’s former seventh-floor suite, which was decorated with wood beams to resemble a wigwam.
Near the room’s entryway, a wooden ladder leads to a shallow crawl space where the coalition said it found Native American relics. Today, the crawl space holds only dust and an empty robin’s nest.
Phoenix’s former sixth-floor room looks like a child’s abandoned bedroom. It still carries an astrological theme reflecting the group’s original name, Adara. Sponged-on gold stars with the first names of members dot the bright blue walls of the room’s entryway.
In smudged gold letters, “Abide Follow” is written backward on the floor in the center of the room. A mirror image of the words is reflected on the ceiling. A giant blue star remains painted on the roof directly outside the room’s window.
The former headquarters of Vulcan on the fifth floor is dark and desolate.
These rooms have been left empty since the groups left in 2000.
Now only Union employees making rounds have regular access.
University officials blame the tower’s steps.
In order to reopen the tower, they say, the University would need to renovate the space in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.
Several members of the Michigan Union Board of Representatives, which must approve Union renovation projects, said the tower would need to be outfitted with an elevator before it could be reopened.
The board is composed of the Union’s director, two faculty representatives and seven student representatives. It also includes several advisors representing University organizations like the Michigan Student Assembly and the Division of Student Affairs.
The board has not done a formal cost estimate of the necessary renovations in recent years, Union Director John Taylor said.
Members of the board said reopening the tower is not one of their main concerns.
Deb Mexicotte, the Division of Student Affairs representative on the board, said they have been focused on other projects, like repairing sections of the building’s roof.
“I doubt you could argue it’s a priority,” she said of the tower.
The project’s high expected cost and the tower’s space constraints have discouraged the board from considering renovations to the tower, Mexicotte said.
“The tower itself is small real estate,” she said.
The space an elevator would demand makes it impractical, Taylor said.
In an October interview, University President Mary Sue Coleman said she had no plans for the vacant space. It hadn’t crossed her mind, she said.
The board has not been approached by any student groups inquiring about the tower, several members said.
LSA senior Nick Hoffman, a Union board member, said renovations would be impractical, but expressed regret that the space couldn’t be put to use.
“It’s a shame it’s wasted,” he said.
Mexicotte said it’s not likely that this space at the heart of campus will be used anytime soon.
“Some people have pipe dreams,” she said. “(They’re not always) financially or logistically practical.”
– Donn Fresard, who usually edits news stories, did not edit this article because he is a member of the society formerly known as Michigamua.