Big changes on the way for McNichols Campus

The new Student Union as seen from above.
The new Student Union will have a brighter, fresher look and a terraced patio for studying and gathering.

University of Detroit Mercy announces its first major investment following the close of its most successful fundraising campaign ever, which raised nearly $115 million. This major renovation project will significantly change the University’s McNichols Campus, which has served as an anchor in northwest Detroit. This project will also reposition the 143-year-old institution for the future and serve as a model of efficiency and sustainability for peer institutions in U.S. cities.

The multi-year, multi-million-dollar renovation project will begin in May with a renovation and expansion of the Student Union, followed by the eventual demolition of the University’s aging Fisher Administration Center and Reno Hall.

In addition to upgrades to academic buildings, administrative space and residence halls, the multi-phase plan includes new on-campus student apartments, greenspace on newly acquired land and a Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning, among other projects.

The McNichols Campus renovation project will enhance the quality of life and business development potential in the Livernois and Six Mile neighborhoods, which is consistent with Detroit Mercy’s role in the Live6 Alliance. Live6 is a partnership with residents, The Kresge Foundation and city of Detroit that works to advance neighborhood and business redevelopment efforts in the community.

When complete, nearly every building on campus will have been renovated or updated. Even more importantly, this initiative will eliminate 100,000 square feet of building space and reduce the institution’s deferred maintenance costs by more than $43 million, as well as improve overall efficiency and sustainability through reduced maintenance costs and facility usage.

The renovations are the result of the University’s master plan, which is focused on improving student satisfaction with the campus, attracting and retaining more students and using University resources wisely.

“We were looking at two things when developing this plan,” said Tammy Batcheller, associate vice president for Facilities Management & Campus Services. “We wanted to ensure that everything we did would be sustainable and that we be fiscally responsible for today and the future.”

Detroit Mercy’s Facilities Management Division continues to work on current projects designed to enhance the physical environment of the University while also increasing efficiency in places where teaching and learning occur.

Funding for this work will come from three sources: bonds, loans and private donations. The University plans to borrow 45% of the funding and take advantage of low interest rate loans. Detroit Mercy will also raise a significant amount of funding to support this renovation project through fundraising efforts.

On Dec. 31, 2019, the University concluded its Build a Boundless Future Campaign. Supporters contributed nearly $115 million to this record-breaking campaign, which gives institutional leadership confidence that future fundraising efforts will prove successful.

“Detroit Mercy has experienced tremendous growth and success over the past several years and exceeding our campaign goal increases the confidence we have to take the University to another level of excellence,” said Antoine M. Garibaldi, Ph.D., president of Detroit Mercy. “The enhancements planned for the McNichols Campus will make the University even more attractive to high-achieving students who want a Jesuit- and Mercy-inspired education, as well as an opportunity to apply their learning to community needs in a city as culturally rich and diverse as Detroit.”

The following is a brief summary of first phase projects scheduled in the McNichols Campus renovation project.

The inside of the new Student Union.
The inside of the new Student Union.

The Student Union

Renovation plans for the Student Union, built in 1955 and expanded in 1970, will once again place the facility at the center of student life on campus.

Unused and obsolete square footage will become the new home for all student-centered services from admissions to financial aid to student life offices. The new Student Union will offer a one-stop-shop for students and their families as they consider a Detroit Mercy education; University Ministry offices will undergo expansion; and the bookstore will move to newly renovated space in the building.

Glass walls will brighten up the building and provide great views of the campus and a dynamic new outdoor plaza for studying or gathering.  An indoor refreshment station, with study pods and a game area, will be a place where students can hang out between classes.

Construction is scheduled to begin in July 2020 with Phase 1 completion by May 2021.

The Fisher Administration Center

The 50,000-square-foot Gunnar Birkerts-designed building was officially dedicated in September 1966 and is one of the tallest buildings on campus, with views that extend blocks away. It houses most of the University’s administrative departments, including the President’s Office. In 2003, the American Institute of Architects honored the building for its “architectural design of enduring significance.”

However, critical maintenance issues would cost more than the expense of tearing it down, Batcheller explained. The University expects to move services and departments from Fisher to the new Student Union and other under-utilized space on campus.

A future demolition date will be set once offices are relocated after the Student Union renovation.

Reno Hall

Batcheller said Reno is one of the most inefficient buildings on campus. The plan calls for demolishing the building and replacing it with newly constructed student apartments designed for upperclassmen and graduate students. These apartments will provide the conveniences and benefits of campus life as students complete their degree.

Built in 1954 as a residence hall, the building is currently home to several academic programs, the University’s counseling and psychology clinics and the international student offices, all of which will be moved to other space on campus.

Other projects

The University recently purchased vacant land abutting the south end of campus behind Shiple Hall. Plans for this space include an intramural sports field and potential gathering spaces where the University community can relax and enjoy the outdoors.

The University will establish a website for campus updates in the near future.

“This project will enhance our McNichols Campus and attract high-achieving students to our University, while at the same time help support the economic and redevelopment efforts taking place in our community,” Garibaldi said. “We hope other urban communities throughout the country view our success as a model that can be replicated and help spur enrollment growth.”

12 Comments

      1. Tim Beck

        WOW. I first resided in 217 Reno Hall in September 1970. A small dorm room, shared with another student, communal shower and toilets. It was OK, but times do change. All the best to Detroit Mercy!

      2. Greg Thein

        Let’s be honest about the fence – in the mid-1980’s the fence was very welcome; the neighborhood would not have been considered safe by any stretch back then. The current fence is a tremendous aesthetic improvement over the chain link fence that used to ring the campus, and wouldn’t look out of place in suburban campuses or developments.

        It’s interesting to hear about renovations to and demolitions of some of the campus facilities. The Fisher Building will not be missed with those strange tunnel entrances. It’s a very unwelcoming building.

        Sad to hear Reno Hall is going. Everyone taking summer term classes stayed there as it was the only dorm with a kitchen. The rooms were bright with the large (but probably inefficient) windows. Lots of memories there. It’s a shame it can’t/won’t be renovated.

        I’d love to see Holden Hall restored to its original condition (if it hasn’t been already). It was pretty worn by the 1980’s, but signs of the original quality and character were still evident underneath the layers of paint.

        Hopefully any renovations and new construction will follow in the path of the newer Student Fitness Center – it fits in better with the classic original campus buildings than many of the other newer (well, 1960’s and 70’s) campus additions. It was a great addition.

        Nice to hear about planned expansion to the south – some additional room would be great. Just keep the Coney Island (formerly Onassis Coney Island, back in the day)! Perhaps some (or all) of the Reno Hall lot could be shifted there, opening up the potential for more green space along Livernois and a more attractive main entrance to the school for first-time visitors?

        Keep up the good work.

  1. Robert Scheah

    Will they be renovating the liberal arts building and finally giving it air conditioning? Can remember spending many days at the beginning of fall semester and summers classes sweating so bad and professors dismissing class due to the heat in that building. I don’t think administration should get updates without adequate facilities for professors and students alike!

    Detroit Mercy Graduate Student

  2. Anonymous

    Take the fence down? Seriously? Parents entrust their young adults to us and you want to take the fence down? The fence is attractive yet serves its purpose. We have always opened our campus to the community in many ways and will continue to do so. But bringing the fence down would send the wrong message to our families. We are lucky to have a defined campus boundary and yet also be a deeply-rooted institution within the University District and City as a whole.

  3. Joe Marion

    Hate to see Reno and the Admin building go! They were part of the charm when I attended. As for the fence, the scar on my neck is a permanent reminder of the need for the wall. Having been jumped on campus the night before finals, I believe security is a high priority, and the security force can’t be everywhere all the time.

  4. Tricia Meehan

    Very sad to hear that Fisher Admin and Reno Hall will most likely be demolished. Architecture is a part of our world where recycling is so needed. “Efficiency” is a comprehensive question and filling up dumps is not really part of that equation.

  5. Ronald Klein

    I also lived in Reno Hall for three semesters. liked it and great way to meet and know other students. I guess it has seen its day.
    Change the name of the school back to “University of Detroit”. That is what the school is.

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