President’s house gets accessibility, infrastructure upgrades


The University of Michigan President’s Residence will reopen this month after undergoing renovations that blended historic preservation with contemporary updates while improving the home’s accessibility. 

The upgrades include an elevator, a rebuilt patio with ramp access, enhanced safety and sustainability features, infrastructure repairs and remodeled rooms and corridors.  

“These renovations have preserved this beautiful campus landmark in a way that keeps it relevant today,” said Geoffrey Chatas, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “The President’s Residence is now a more livable home, and a more inviting and accessible location for the more than 70 campus events hosted there each year.”

Built in 1840, the President’s Residence is the oldest building at U-M. It serves as the home of the president and as a gathering space for various events for the university community. 

The 16-month renovation project addressed deferred maintenance needs and added Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant features. The total cost was $11.5 million, less than the up to $15 million that was estimated when the Board of Regents approved the project in May 2022.

Workers renovated two bathrooms — one on the first floor near the west entrance, and another upstairs — to make them wheelchair accessible. They also expanded an attached garage by 10 feet to install an elevator that provides access to the private, second-floor residence areas.

New ramps and paths were added for improved access to both the house and a bluestone patio in the backyard. 

“I am especially excited about the improvements that make the residence more accessible and welcoming, considering the many guests who are invited to events there every year,” Chatas said. 

Photo of a bluestone patio leading to accessible doors at the rear of the President's Residence.
This patio leads to wheelchair-accessible doors at the rear of the President’s Residence. An accessibility ramp, located behind planter on the right side, runs alongside the house. (Photo by Roger Hart, Michigan Photography)

The project included an array of sustainability upgrades. Solar panels were placed on the roof’s south side to help offset energy consumption by an estimated 10.43 megawatt hours per year. A new heating system and a hybrid-electric, heat-pump-driven whole-house water heater also were installed.

The fire-suppression system was extended to the entire residence; previously, portions of the first and second floors were uncovered. Other upgrades were made to the security, mechanical and electrical systems. 

On the second-floor residential area, workers expanded and remodeled a tiny kitchen to make it more functional for a family. The first-floor event-preparation kitchen was upgraded. 

Freshly painted walls, new window treatments, stylish light fixtures and refurbished flooring throughout the home make it feel bright and airy. 

The renovations upgraded the building to current standards while also honoring its history, said project design manager Tim Carlson, an architect with Architecture, Engineering & Construction. 

For example, the original wood trim and bookcases along a curved wall of the library were refurbished, as was a delicate plaster rosette on the ceiling. But the room also has new maize-and-blue Pewabic tiles on the fireplace and cushioned banquette seating so guests can gather around a Steinway Model C piano that was built in 1880. 

In the president’s study, sunlight streams through refurbished windows that were originally installed in 1933. The room was designed by renowned architect Albert Kahn.

“We maintained the historic fabric of the house,” Carlson said. 

The President’s Residence was 4,800 square feet when it was built in 1840 on South University Avenue. Four significant additions between 1864 and 1933 increased its size to about 14,000 square feet. 

The first-floor public area hosts many events every year, from new-student welcome nights to faculty gatherings and informal meetings. The second and third floors are the president’s private living quarters.

University officials say investments in the house over the past two decades were underfunded, leading to an accumulation of deferred maintenance. The renovation project addressed many of those needs, including repairs to the plaster walls and ceilings, floors, exterior stucco and gutters.

To help prevent maintenance needs from accumulating in the future, a maintenance reserve fund has been established.

“These upgrades will help to ensure that this historic campus building will remain a part of the University of Michigan experience and tradition for generations to come,” Chatas said.


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