Plans to renovate the iconic, 97-year-old Michigan Union took another step forward Thursday as the Board of Regents approved the project’s schematic design.   

The $85.2 million project will enhance student social space on the main level by expanding lounge and study spaces. It also will create state-of-the-art student organization and student involvement space, improve space for counseling and student support services, and enhance meeting space near the Rogel Ballroom.

“The project team has worked to create highly interactive spaces that allow for students and student organizations to interact with each other in meaningful ways,” says E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life.

“For almost 100 years the union has been the place that the university family gathers to celebrate, collaborate, remember and create what is truly special about Michigan.”

The current Michigan Union consists of the original building, which opened in 1919, and additions that were built in the 1930s and ’50s.

The project also includes plans to enclose the courtyard for year-round use. The design calls for a new glass-and-steel roof structure over the courtyard. The appearance of the roof will incorporate arches and curves found in the original 1919 Michigan Union building.

This drawing shows the planned enclosure for the Michigan Union courtyard. (Drawing courtesy of Architecture, Engineering and Construction)

“The nature of Michigan weather dictated the patio could only be used a few months per year. We also heard from students and others on campus about the need for more programming space,” says Susan Pile, senior director of university unions and auxiliary services. “The enclosed courtyard will create a new, vibrant, year-round social hub as a place for students, campuswide events and informal gathering space.”

The renovations will improve accessibility throughout the building in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Pile also noted that the north side of the building is the most heavily used entrance. Data shows that more than 1.2 million people use this entrance each year and, in many ways, consider it to be the front door to the building.

In recognition of this prominent entry, a new, curved glass entrance canopy will be constructed. The design will include architectural elements reflected throughout the original union building and the Michigan League, which was designed by the same architects as the union.

The union’s north entryway will be redesigned to feature a curved glass canopy. (Drawing courtesy of Architecture, Engineering and Construction)

The project also plans to address infrastructure needs such as life safety, electrical, mechanical, plumbing improvements, elevator replacements and upgrades, the replacement of the roof, restoration of windows and some interior finish upgrades.

The union has long been a vibrant center for the campus community. It contains meeting and special event spaces, student organization office and activity spaces, dining and retail establishments, study lounges and other services, and resources related to support students and enhance the campus community. 

Pile also noted that the Michigan Union board of representatives and the student organization Building a Better Michigan were instrumental in assuring student involvement and successfully advocating for improvements to the union.

“We provided input to the architects and designers on what students would like to see in this project,” says Jason Comstock, U-M student and co-president from Building a Better Michigan. “The renovation will bring the iconic building back to life and make students excited about their union again.”

Funding will be provided from the Student Life student fee for facility renewal and investment proceeds. In April 2013, regents approved a new $65-per-term student fee that will fund improvements in the university unions and recreational sports facilities. The Michigan Union project is the latest in an initiative of investments to revitalize spaces beyond the classroom, from unions and recreational fields to buildings.

The architectural firm Integrated Design Solutions — in association with Workshop Architects Inc. as the design architect, and Hartman-Cox Architects as the historic preservation specialists — designed the project.

The two-year project is expected to begin in spring 2018.  It will provide an average of 75 on-site construction jobs. There will be no impact on parking from this project.

The Michigan Union is the third oldest college union in the nation.

It is the successor to an earlier union clubhouse, a remodeled residence built originally by Judge Thomas M. Cooley, a longtime member of the university’s law faculty.

In early 1916, the clubhouse was torn down to make way for a new Michigan Union. The growth of the student body and the increasing importance of the union made an expansion of its facilities imperative. Plans for the new union were prepared by alumni and brothers Allen Pond and Irving K. Pond.

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