The newly renovated Michigan Union opened Jan. 13 to scores of visitors who said they were impressed by the iconic building’s open spaces, upgraded technology and glass-roofed courtyard.
“It’s gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous,” said Shelli Aldrich-Reed, a human resources business partner who works on North Campus but used to work in the Union. “It was long overdue, and I’m glad they could keep a lot of the historic pieces. It looks natural and inviting. I love it.”
The Union had been closed for about 20 months as it underwent an $85.2 million renovation. The project included several energy efficiency upgrades, the creation of an IdeaHub for student organizations, and the addition of a sprinkler system. The union’s 540 windows, some of which are a century old, were restored.
The festive reopening event featured building tours, giveaways, balloons and streamers, food trucks, and music by Michigan Marching Band members. Hundreds of students gathered outside the State Street and North entrances waiting for the doors to open.
University and student leaders spoke at a noon ceremony in the courtyard, where a brass Block “M” is embedded in the floor and sunlight streams through a new 36-foot high glass roof.
“The influence of the Michigan Union is unmatched in higher education,” President Mark Schlissel said. “It housed military personnel before World War I and has been home for students protesting in the name of peace. John F. Kennedy famously proposed the Peace Corps on its steps, and it was the center of one of U-M’s major missteps: the failure to freely allow women to enter until 1956.
“For generations, the Michigan Union has been a place where students lead, a place for activism, and a place of student-driven change that has made us a better and more important university. The renovation we’re commemorating today advances the Union’s incredible legacy.”
Both Schlissel and Regent Ron Weiser noted that students played a major role in the renovation planning process.
Weiser said the renovation equipped the union to meet the needs of current and future students while honoring the building’s history. He called it “magnificent and pivotal.”
“We believe its accessibility and wonderful design and amenities will bring people together and stimulate further collaboration between diverse communities and individuals,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, was among the ceremony’s attendees. She said the updates make the union look more welcoming.
“I really wanted to be here. I’ve been to so many events at the Union,” she said. “It represents so many historical moments in our country’s history. It’s an important reopening of a tradition.”
One of the first people in line waiting to get inside was sophomore Alaa Shahin, 22, of West Bloomfield, a recent transfer student who is studying computer science. She risked being late for a class to be there.
“I’ve heard a lot about the Union and thought, ‘Let me see what everyone is talking about,’” she said. “I’m super excited.”
After the ceremony, the building buzzed with visitors taking tours. Students filled the couches and chairs in the South Lounge and Willis Ward Lounge.
“The fireplace is pretty sweet,” said 19-year-old sophomore Braiden Cataldo of Grand Rapids, as he sat next to a new 15-foot-long, two-sided fireplace. He said he was looking forward to the upcoming opening of Union food vendors Panda Express, Panera Bread and Taco Bell.
Alum Hamed Suffety Jr. of East Lansing said he especially liked the new enclosed courtyard. Suffety graduated from U-M in 1979.
“I spent a lot of time here,” he said, smiling. “It never looked this nice.”
The Union opened in 1919. It was expanded in the 1930s and 1950s, and today is 250,000 square feet.