Welcome to the first edition of Michigan Union Connection, your semi-annual newsletter to keep you updated on the happenings of the Michigan Union.
Within this publication, we plan to share with you information about the Michigan Union’s notable history; explore the exciting initiatives and refinements happening with the renovation and reopening; and introduce you to the people who have contributed so much to its rich place within the campus community.
In May, the Michigan Union closed its doors in order to undergo an $85 million preservation/renovation project. The project is expected to be completed in winter
2020. It is the first renovation on the facility in more than 20 years as well as the first of this scope in Union history. The project goals are to improve student spaces, enhance accessibility, and repair the infrastructure while maintaining the historical integrity of the 1919 building.
That’s a tall order, but with input from students, staff, faculty, alumni and experts in the field of renovating iconic historic structures, the Michigan Union will return as a home away from home for our students and the campus community.
We hope you enjoy following the Michigan Union story through this newsletter, and we welcome you to become part of the story as well.
Director, Michigan Union
Hundreds of students, staff and faculty said ‘goodbye for now’, to the Michigan Union as the iconic landmark kicked off renovations in May.
“Until We Meet Again” was an afternoon of displays, performances, photo opportunities and refreshments. The displays included a virtual reality experience of walking through the renovated Union and its many new features. Take a final tour of the Michigan Union prior to the renovation with this MLive news story.
Photos: Visitors to the “Until We Meet Again” celebration were treated to refreshments, shared memories and an interactive 3D visual display of the renovated Union.
When the University of Michigan Regents approved schematic designs for the $85.2 million renovation to the Michigan Union, one focus was on their minds: students. Which is entirely fitting as the Union — a centerpiece of U-M campus activity — was initiated and its growth has been driven by students since its inception.
From the beginning of the planning process, the Michigan Union Board of Representatives (MUBR) and the student organization Building a Better Michigan (BBM) were instrumental in surveying student support and successfully advocating for improvements to the Union.
Jason Comstock, co-president of BBM, who was highly involved in the project says, “We provided input to the architects and designers on what students would like to see changed in this project. We also toured other student unions to identify features of their buildings that we can incorporate into our own renovation.”
Dating back to its beginning in the early 1900s, the Union was founded first by students as a club, with the facility built in 1919. It has always been a central location for student involvement, activism and social engagement.“
This renovation will bring the iconic building back to life and make the students excited about their Union again,” Comstock explains. “My parents are Michigan alums and they have always been proud of their Union building. After the renovation, I hope to boast the same pride of the Union as my parents did when they attended this great University.”
Helen He, former MUBR chair, agrees.
“Student input is critical to the Michigan Union renovation process. Thousands of students walk into the Union each day and their activity is what makes the Union thrive. Students provided a fresh and necessary perspective to the renovations and the end results will reflect what students have voiced,” she says.
Accolades for the design were also noted when Workshop Architects, consultants for the Michigan Union Renovation project, earned the Environmental Design Research Association’s (EDRA) Certificate of Research Excellence (CORE) for its social research effort, “Campus Capital Framework: Mapping Meaning to Inform the Michigan Union Renovation.”
The EDRA CORE program recognizes and celebrates exceptional environmental design research as applied to design projects. The Campus Capital Framework assessed the significance that students attribute to the Michigan Union and other important spaces on campus. Results showed that the Michigan Union not only ranks among the most significant areas on campus, but is also the only place that ranked among the top settings for each form of capital. These findings provided administrators and designers with a baseline measure of place meaning on campus for the Michigan Union and future campus planning projects, and a basis for future post-occupancy evaluation.
Photos: Students were able to paint messages on the floor of the Michigan Union’s outside patio during the “Until We Meet Again” celebration. To preserve this moment in Michigan Union history, the messages will be covered by a new floor that will be added over the patio when a glass roof is installed over the space. The patio, which has been underutilized due to Michigan seasons, will be functional year-round.
Retired Director Frank Cianciola
In its 100+-year history, the evolution of the Michigan Union – and the students who walk through its doors – has been significant. From a place that served as a men’s social organization to a facility buzzing with a diverse population connecting via cell phones, computers and coffee, the Union has grown with its audience.
Retired Michigan Union Director, Associate Dean of Students, and Senior Associate Vice President of Student Life, Frank Cianciola, was a major part of that evolution.
“When the Union began, it was a men’s organization — eventually a game center with bowling, billiards, table tennis, etc. Then in the 1960s, students became more politically active and began spending more time at the Union as a place to interact,” he says. “Now it’s a place to get students even more invested – an environment where students can practice their citizenship and become very involved.”
Joining the Union leadership in the 1980s, Cianciola is credited with bringing students back to the Union after declining student engagement in the 1960s and 1970s and making it a place of their own.“
We established a Union Charter in partnership with Student Government and University Activities Center along with other interested student leaders. I felt it was important to have the Charter and to have a place for staff, faculty and alumni,” he says. “I firmly believe that we were stronger pulling together vs. competing for space and resources.”
It was also important to have a student chair of the Michigan Union Board of Representatives, he said. “It was a great learning experience for those who served in that position.”
“I felt these steps were important at the time I took responsibility for the Union, because in the late 70s, students were not being served intentionally by the Union. They did not feel invested in the success of the Union. If the Union was to serve students, I felt they must have a voice in the programs, services and goals of the Union.”
By being leaders at the university and within the Union, Cianciola sees students investing in their future as well as the future of their alma mater.
“Students should play a vital role as partners with staff. A former staff member would often say that the students we have the privilege of working with would one day become the future leaders of the world. I do not believe that is an overstatement at all. If we as staff view our interactions with students in this way, we can give them opportunities to gain experience leading and making contributions to the future.”
That student voice and input is essential to the success of the university.
“I do not know of a substitute for the student’s perspective. Staff can be well-trained with great experience, but it is very difficult for staff to see the world or the campus experience through the eyes of a student. Staff can guide, challenge and support students, but cannot completely share the experience the student is going through at the time,” he explains. The current Michigan Union Renovation is an example of that, Cianciola says.
“In the 80s and 90s we wanted to make sure the Union supported student organizations. In trying to address this goal, we completely renovated the fourth floor of the Union dedicated to student organizations. We created offices, meeting space and a place to design and paint banners [dedicated to student organizations],” he says. “Today student organizational needs are very different. The goal is the same, to support student organizations, to have them interact with each other. The space being developed is vastly different than it was 30 years ago. The goals may be similar, but the paths to achieve those goals are very different.”
Cianciola views the first renovation of the Union in the 1980s as the beginning of today’s student-focused facility.
“Together with talented students and staff, the Union was transformed from a building that was avoided by students — the student orientation actually avoided bringing new students into the Union — to an organization that served as a laboratory for citizenship, a place to develop life-long friendships and serve as a conduit to the future. I am also proud of our efforts to bring together the Union, League and Pierpont Commons under the leadership and goals of the Unions. This allowed us to do our best to serve students in a variety of ways that were not possible when those organizations were not administratively connected.”
Cianciola retired from the university in 2007 as Senior Associate Vice President for Student Life, however, he is excited about the new Union renovation and the ability of students to take the concept to the next level saying, “The Union is in great shape to make a difference in the student experience for the next 100 years!”
Photos: Frank Cianciola dedicated more than 30 years to enhancing the student university experience. His efforts to make the Michigan Union a student-focused facility paid off in making the iconic structure a place of community.
- Crews have started installing new air handlers in the HVAC system. The upgraded HVAC system will be a Variable Air Volume (VAV) style of heating, ventilating, and/or air-conditioning and will offer a more precise temperature control, reduced compressor wear, lower energy consumption by system fans, and less fan noise.
- Windows are being removed and will soon be refurbished by a Michigan company. Returning to the original 1919 look and feel, the windows, which include original multi-colored stained glass panels, will be brought up-to-date with an eye toward energy efficiency and sustainability.
Some highlights include:
- Protective wood was placed over slate and tiled floors, in stairwells, and around historic moldings in order to ensure these special features of the Michigan Union heritage remain intact and in pristine shape.
- The demolition of concrete in the basement level will set the stage for installing new mechanical equipment.
The Chance to Make Your Mark
The renovation of the Michigan Union is your opportunity to support the Michigan Union, its mission, and Michigan students for generations to come. Your gift will help restore and re-energize the Union while maintaining its historic fabric as a vibrant social hub and locus of community, innovation, involvement, and leadership.
Have you created your Michigan Union legacy yet?
Legacy gifts from generous alumni and friends provide the future support needed to achieve the University’s long-term commitment to excellence. A bequest is the easiest and most tangible way to accomplish this. If you have already included the Michigan Union in your estate plans, but have not previously notified us, please let us know. We would like to properly thank you for your support, ensure your wishes are met, and plan with you for the building’s future.
Ways to Fund Your Gift
Your gifts of cash, pledges, or appreciated securities will enhance the experience of all University of Michigan students. Wills, estates, and planned gifts allow you to create a lasting legacy that will allow our students to grow and thrive for generations to come.
Contact us with any questions as well as for more information on how you can include the University of Michigan in your estate plans or how to document your wishes and become a member of the John Monteith Legacy Society.
Student Life Development
Wolverine Tower, Suite 9000
3003 South State Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48109-1288
The Michigan Union Mission
The Michigan Union shall be a University center for the primary purpose of enhancing the quality of campus life and favorably affecting the complete educational experience at the University of Michigan. The Michigan Union shall serve as a unifying force in the lives of students, faculty, staff, and alumni by providing opportunities for interaction and for the cultivation of loyalty to the University of Michigan.
Caroline Richburg*, chair
Nicholas Schmidt*, vice chair