A historic campus building that served as the university’s first scientific research laboratory is one step closer to adding needed classroom space and improved accessibility.

The Board of Regents approved design plans Thursday for a new addition to the 165-year-old Detroit Observatory.

The project will add about 7,000 square feet to the second-oldest building on campus, providing a flexible multi-use classroom, a new entry and reception area, exhibit space, restrooms, storage and catering and support spaces.

Additional aspects of the project include a new elevator and stairs, as well as site work to allow for improved accessibility and greater connectivity.

No changes will be made to the original 1854 structure, but the addition will allow easier access to it and more uses around it.

An artist's rendering of the addition at the Detroit Observatory
This drawing shows the addition planned for the Detroit Observatory. (Image courtesy of Architecture, Engineering and Construction)

“The Detroit Observatory is a historic resource for the university and surrounding community, but it lacks accessibility, classrooms, restrooms and support spaces that would allow it to be a destination that links the university’s history of scientific study to the present and beyond,” wrote Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer, in a recommendation to the board.

The Detroit Observatory, 1398 E. Ann St., became the university’s first dedicated scientific research laboratory when it was constructed in 1854, just 13 years after the first students arrived on the Ann Arbor campus. The facility helped to transform U-M into one of the first research universities in the country.

Two additions were built in 1868 and 1908 as the facility’s teaching mission evolved but these were later removed, leaving only the original 1854 structure, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

A restoration of the original building was completed in 1999, and it became a division of the Bentley Historical Library in 2005.

The addition project, estimated to cost $10 million, includes significant earthwork and specialized footings and foundations to protect the historic building and support the addition and landscape.

The architectural firm Harley Ellis Devereaux designed the project.

Funding will be provided from Bentley Historical Library gifts and resources, and investment proceeds. The project is expected to provide an average of 13 on-site construction jobs and is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2020.

Although there will be a temporary loss of some adjacent parking spaces during construction, there will be no permanent impact on parking from this project.

Regents also authorized issuing bids and awarding construction contracts for the project.

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