Though the university has only just unveiled their plans to renovate East Hall, administrators are eager to hear feedback from both students and members of the community on what they would like to see from the planned alumni center that will occupy the historic building.
The school officially announced its plans to remake the university’s East Campus on Monday, which, besides the renovation of East Hall, include the demolition of North Hall, West Hall and the Speech and Hearing Center. Although many were surprised to hear the news, officials emphasized that many of their plans are still incubating, and will ultimately factor in suggestions all members of the university community.
“In terms of the alumni center, in terms of what it will be and what it will do, has not been determined yet,” said Bob Miller, the associate vice president of community outreach. “There will be ample opportunity for faculty, staff, and most importantly, students and alumni input into that process.”
The university only recently decided to take this path of action, near the end of November, said WMU President John Dunn.
East Hall is the first building ever used by WMU, built in 1904. Today, the building is home of the Archives and Regional History Collections, though most of the structure is off-limits to students, as most of its classrooms are boarded up.
For the past two years, the school had pinned its hopes of transforming the entirety East Campus on a private developer, KDC Real Estate Development and Investments. The company had planned on turning East Hall into a boutique hotel, relying on Michigan’s Historic Preservation and Brownfield tax credits in order to fund the project’s estimated $60 million price tag. However, when these tax credits were eliminated by Lansing, the project grounded to an immediate halt.
“It became clear to us that the feasibility of the current path we were on was not going to materialize,” Dunn said. “To continue to do nothing is unacceptable.”
While both Dunn and Miller praised KDC for the time and commitment their developers poured into renovation project, both said university couldn’t afford to allow the buildings to further deteriorate while the real estate firm scrambled to find alternative funding.
Unfortunately, the price tag to renovate every building on its own in East Campus would of cost the school around $95 million, Dunn said, forcing the school to choose to preserve East Hall over the structures.
“The President made the decision to save what we could, what we could afford to save, on East Campus, and that would be the birthplace of the university, East Hall,” said Miller. “It’s a case of save something or there will be nothing left to save.”
The university plans on borrowing $15 million to cover the renovations, and plans on holding fundraising events to help gain additional project funds. Administrators say they are still in the early stages of the project, and looking to put together design and planning teams in the near future.
Various officials have been asking how to utilize East Hall in a more effective manner for years, even before President Dunn entered office in 2007. While many different ideas were purposed, including turning the building into a new administration center, the concept that eventually won out was to transform East Hall into an alumni center, a gathering space for former students which are prevalent at other major universities, Dunn said.
“When you think about the fact that this is the home of the university, its where the university was founded, it seemed to make sense to have a dedicated space that really focuses on and respects our alumni, whose lives have been touched by this university,” Dunn said.
The space that is occupied by the buildings slated for demolition will be turned into parking and green space, though Miller said that certain structural elements in North Hall, such as the fireplace and entrance, will be incorporated into the designs for the alumni center.
“You could not have refurbished, renovated, beautiful East Hall steps away from a boarded-up building that was longer being utilized,” Miller said.
At the moment, there is no definite timetable for either the renovation or the demolitions. The university is still in the process of constructing a new home for its archives, the WMU Legacy Collections Center, which is scheduled to open next fall. Until the new structure is complete and the documents are moved out their current housing in East Hall’s gymnasium and basement, any renovations on the century-old building will have to wait.
Still, both Dunn and Miller said they have high hopes that, when the alumni center is complete, the space will be a sight that former, current and future Broncos can behold, one that will attract more visitors to the historic location.
“I think that many in the community will be pleased to see, after years of no activity at all, we have made a commitment, we are going to do something,” Dunn said. “While it may not respond to everything that everyone wanted, its certainly far superior to anything that has surfaced thus far.”
<em>Ted Yoakum is the political reporter for the Western Herald. He can reached via <a href=”mailto:email@example.com”>email</a>, <a href=”http://www.twitter.com/therealgyokes”>Twitter</a>, or by phone at 269-588-1040.</em>