$40M to renovate Rackham building in Detroit gets regents’ OK

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The Horace H. Rackham Educational Memorial, located in Detroit’s Midtown, will undergo renovations to become the new home to many existing University of Michigan initiatives and programs in the city of Detroit. 

The $40 million project, approved Dec. 9 by the Board of Regents, is part of the university’s long-term commitment to the city to grow the economy and improve the quality of life through teaching and research in collaboration with the community. 

Plans for the 121,000-square-foot building include renovating approximately 70,000 square feet of space to address major infrastructure updates, and also feature classroom space, multipurpose rooms and maker spaces for nearly 500 students. 

The building will house the various programs currently in leased space around Detroit: the Detroit Center and an office for undergraduate admissions, and programs within the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, College of Engineering, LSA and the School for Environment and Sustainability.

“This is an important project that will establish a new center of operations for the university’s wide-ranging work in partnership with the city and its residents,” President Mark Schlissel said. “Our university was founded in Detroit in 1817, and I’m proud that our presence and work in the city continues to grow.”

Built in 1942, the Rackham building was a gift from Mary Rackham and was jointly owned by U-M and the Engineering Society of Detroit. In 2018, the university acquired full ownership of the building, which has not received major infrastructure updates since its original opening.

The renovation is being driven by the expiration of two U-M leases for facilities in Detroit, with base rents of $500,000 and annual operating costs between $170,000 and $670,000. The reduction of those lease expenses will provide a majority of the funding for the operating expenses after the building is renovated. Investment proceeds will fund the project.

“The Rackham building is now more than 80 years old, has suffered from underinvestment in the building over the years, and needs a major renovation to address its deteriorating infrastructure and to meet modern teaching, learning and programming needs,” said Geoffrey S. Chatas, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Plans for the building call for energy-efficiency improvements, including energy-efficient lighting, insulation added to exterior walls, and interior storm windows.

Additional improvements include a roof replacement, mechanical, electrical and plumbing infrastructure, and exterior masonry wall repairs.

The building sits adjacent to many city landmarks, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Wayne State University and the Detroit Public Library, making it an ideal launching pad for educational and cultural experiences for the city and U-M community. 

Transportation and parking options also are available near the building, including the D2A2, which provides express bus service between Detroit and Ann Arbor, and the QLINE light rail system, as well as the adjacent 300-space parking deck located at Rackham.  

The architectural firm Integrated Design Solutions, in association with Quinn Evans, will design the project, which is expected to provide more than 30 on-site construction jobs. University officials expect to seek approval for schematic design bids in the spring of 2022.

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