Union project revealed surprises, reuse opportunities


Workers renovating the Michigan Union uncovered surprises, found creative ways to reuse materials and added modern amenities while respecting and preserving the iconic building’s history.  

Here’s a look at some of the cool features of the revamped union.

Covered courtyard

A large courtyard was capped with a 36-foot high glass roof, making the sun-filled space inviting to students and visitors year-round.

A brass Block “M” that used to be on the fourth floor of the building was placed in the center of the courtyard’s new end-grain wood floor.

Susan Pile, senior director of University Unions and Auxiliary Services, said students who provided input on the project said they wanted the space to feel like an indoor Diag.

Repurposed bowling lanes

The bowling lanes in the Union’s basement were used to make three tables for the second-floor IdeaHub, a gathering space for student organizations. The IdeaHub covers a space that includes an area formerly occupied by a billiards room.

Window memories

People who carved their names decades ago into the wooden sashes and lead cames that are part of the Union’s windows would likely be pleased to see their graffiti still lives on in 2020.

Full Spectrum Stained Glass Inc., the Colon, Michigan-based company that restored the Union’s 540 windows, adhered to the wishes of university officials to preserve the words they discovered as a nod to the building’s history.

 Full Spectrum Vice President Valerie McCartney said old carvings were found — and remain — on about eight windows scattered throughout the building. The windows date to 1919, 1937 and 1956. Some of the carvings are dated, such as one that reads, “George Clow June 8 1944.”

Welcoming hearth

A 15-foot-long, two-sided fireplace was installed between the Willis Ward Lounge and the new South Lounge on the first floor near the State Street entrance.

Open staircase

Gone are the doors and walls that separated floors around the Union’s main staircase as a fire-safety measure, and which were not original to the building. The addition of a sprinkler system and smoke baffles allowed workers to open the staircase, making the space feel airy and allowing in more natural light.

Uncovered doorways

Workers discovered and uncovered three limestone doorways on the second floor, along the courtyard, that had been covered with drywall several years ago. A drop ceiling in the same area was removed to reveal ceiling arches.



  1. Kari Dumbeck
    on January 8, 2020 at 8:38 am

    I can’t wait to see the remodeled building but am sad to hear the billiards room is gone. It was an icon and a place of my youth with my first husband ( a UM grad). I guess we all change with the times at some point.

  2. Kristina Owens
    on January 27, 2020 at 8:23 am

    Is there a gallery of before and after pictures to truly appreciate the scope of this project and what an amazing job was done to preserve the historical features of the building?

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