The Board of Regents approved design plans Thursday for a new 100,000-square-foot classroom building on Central Campus that will serve up to 10,000 students each day.

The construction is part of a project that also would renovate the historic Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building. The new facility — to be called the Central Campus Classroom Building — will replace a 34,000-square-foot addition built onto the Ruthven building in 1964.

The classroom building will include 1,400 classroom seats in a variety of learning spaces, including a 550-seat auditorium, a 200-seat classroom “in the round” and other team-based learning rooms.

Artists rendering of new Central Campus Classroom Building
This artist’s rendering shows the new Central Campus Classroom Building, to be built next to the renovated Ruthven Building. (Image courtesy of Architecture, Engineering and Construction)

Project addresses campus need

The project design accommodates the university’s evolving academic needs as more courses and instructors require large, modern, team-based and active-learning classrooms.

The rooms will include state-of-the-art technology and be constructed with a more open plan and increased flexibility, including the ability to transition easily from lectures to small work teams to larger group discussions. A faculty advisory group contributed input to the new classroom building.

“In many fields, the way we teach has changed, becoming more interactive, more collaborative, and using new technologies,” says Provost Martin Philbert. “This new building will support these innovations, facilitate and enhance student engagement and contribute to teaching and learning in the future.”

The building’s prime location on Central Campus ­— close to student living areas, libraries and the Central Campus Transportation Center — make it especially appealing for new classrooms.

Classroom in new building
An artist’s rendering of one of the innovative new classrooms that will be part of the Central Campus Classroom Building. (Image courtesy of Architecture, Engineering and Construction)

Aside from classroom space, the project also includes the renovation and reuse of the approximately 135,000-square-foot main Ruthven building, former home of the Museum of Natural History.

The former museum facility will house space for academic and research initiatives, an approximately 200-person multipurpose room, and administrative spaces for central administration staff currently located in the Fleming Administration Building, including the president and other executive officers.

The renovated building also will provide additional space to accommodate students with special testing needs.

“In bringing together teaching, research, and administration, the new building will foster collaborations that strengthen the university’s ability to fulfill its academic mission,” Philbert explains.

The aging Fleming Building is functionally obsolete with numerous structural and infrastructure problems.

Design preserves historic structure

The Ruthven plans address two of the university’s priorities when it comes to construction and renovation — preserving historic buildings and making them more environmentally sustainable.

The Ruthven Museums Building, with its red brick and Bedford limestone exterior constructed in the Classical Revival style, was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn and built in 1928.

Kahn designed a number of notable buildings on campus and throughout southeastern Michigan, including the Fisher Building and the Belle Isle Aquarium and Conservatory in Detroit, as well as Hill Auditorium, Clements Library and Angell Hall on the Ann Arbor campus.

One of the goals for this project was preserving the building’s many interesting architectural features, including its two-story decorative rotunda and more than 100 images including animals and mythological creatures carved into the exterior limestone.

While celebrating the building’s history, the design also includes a number of elements that will make the building more environmentally sustainable, including lights that turn on and off by motion sensor, indoor bicycle storage and better utilization of natural lighting. The project will seek LEED Silver certification, an industry standard for green building design and function.

The project is expected to provide an average of 115 on-site construction jobs and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2021. Although there will be a temporary loss of some adjacent parking spaces during construction, there will be no permanent impact on parking capacity from this project.

In addition to approving the design plans, regents also voted to remove the word “museums” from the official name of the Alexander G. Ruthven Museums Building. The Museum of Natural History is moving to the Biological Sciences Building and scheduled to reopen next year.

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