Exterior demolition begins at Fleming Administration Building

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An excavator’s claw began tearing into the Fleming Administration Building Aug. 11, sending bricks and pieces of metal tumbling to the ground as passersby stopped to snap photos.

Exterior demolition of the 54-year-old Central Campus landmark, once home to the offices of U-M presidents and the site of raucous student protests, is expected to take about a month. Afterward, the ground will be filled in and landscaped as open space while university officials consider future uses for the site.

The project includes a strong focus on reusing or recycling materials in line with U-M’s sustainability goals. Office equipment, furniture and custodial supplies from Fleming were sold through Property Disposition or redistributed to other buildings, said Hank Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations. E-waste was recycled whenever possible.

As the demolition progresses, workers will sort materials on-site for either recycling or proper disposal, including ferrous and non-ferrous metals, concrete, brick and block, and construction and demolition debris such as wood, drywall, carpeting and roofing materials.

Fleming needed major repairs and was considered functionally obsolete before it closed in early 2022. The people who worked there were relocated across campus to the newly renovated Alexander G. Ruthven Building.

The Board of Regents approved the Ruthven renovations — with the understanding that Fleming would eventually be demolished — in 2016. The $3.4 million demolition project was approved in February.

Crews have spent the past few months abating hazardous materials, removing windows and disconnecting utilities.

At about 9:30 a.m. Aug. 11, an excavator pierced the second story of Fleming’s brown-brick façade. By lunchtime, the entire side of the building that faces Regents’ Plaza and The Cube had been stripped away, leaving a jumble of rebar, ductwork and bits of insulation visible between the exposed concrete floors.

“I’m excited to see what they do with that space,” said Adan Hussain, one of several people who stopped to watch the demolition from a sidewalk across the street. “It would be really nice to see a park there, or student art sculptures.”

Hussain, director of the Kessler Presidential Scholars Program in LSA, said Fleming’s minimal windows and fortress-like feel was out-of-line with U-M’s modern-day focus on being welcoming and inclusive.

When the building, designed by noted architect Alden Dow, opened in 1968, it was known simply as the University of Michigan Administration Building. It hosted its first Board of Regents meeting on Sept. 20 of that year, according to records in the Bentley Historical Library archives. 

The Board of Regents voted in 1980 to name the building after Robben W. Fleming, U-M’s ninth president, and his wife, Aldyth (Sally) Fleming. Earlier this year, the board named a public gathering space in Ruthven in honor of the Flemings.

The 78,000 square-foot structure, with six floors of office space, arched entry doors and skinny windows that let in sparse sunlight, housed the offices of nine U-M presidents and interim presidents. It was often the site of student protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Former U-M students Jim and Gwynn Sterken participated in Vietnam War protests at Fleming. Roughly five decades later, they stood on the roof of the parking garage across Thompson Street watching workers prepare to tear it down.  

“Back at that time, we didn’t trust anyone over 30 — except for (then-President) Fleming. He earned a reputation as an honest, stand-up guy,” Jim Sterken said.

Sterken said for him and his wife, being there brought back good memories of their college days. He took a few photos of the site for his 3-year-old grandson, Theo, who likes construction equipment.

“There were a lot of protests around here. It was kind of like a focal point,” Sterken said, looking toward the building as he recalled its history. “I bet none of the students today have any memory of it at all. …

“It will be kind of sad to see it come down.”

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