UM-Dearborn is developing a new comprehensive campus plan

July 11, 2023

The changing nature of work and education are prompting the university to rethink ways to optimize its physical spaces.

The main dining area in the Renick University Center
Recent renovations in the Renick University Center are a preview of what's coming in the new comprehensive master plan.

Executive Director for Facilities Operations Carol Glick says developing a new 10-year plan for the UM-Dearborn campus, sometimes referred to as a master plan, has been on her team’s radar for the past seven years. But a series of events prompted them to hit the pause button a few times. Back in 2017, Dan Little announced his retirement as chancellor, so Glick said it made sense to wait until the new chancellor, Domenico Grasso, could weigh in. Soon after starting at UM-Dearborn, Grasso spearheaded a campuswide strategic planning effort, so again, it was advantageous to wait on the comprehensive campus plan so we could build around the strategic plan’s core themes. Then COVID hit. Then the University of Michigan got a new president — who is now overseeing a strategic planning and campus planning effort in Ann Arbor, with hopes that we can sync our campuses’ visions, especially when it comes to sustainability goals. 

Now, though, all the stars have finally aligned for Glick to dig into a task that’s a “dream project” for her and her team’s architects, designers and project managers. In the end, she says all the delays were fortuitous, because so much of the broader visioning that informs how we design spaces has already been completed as a result of UM-Dearborn’s strategic planning process. “We’re really looking at this campus planning as an outcome of the strategic plan,” Glick says. “Our campus community has come up with all these ideas and goals and now it’s a question of how we can best design our physical spaces to achieve those goals. And because we engaged extensively with our campus stakeholders in the strategic planning effort, we can build the plan around their vision and their voices.” 

So what can you expect in the new campus plan? Glick says look for two themes to take center stage. First, her team will be focusing on establishing a new center of gravity for campus around the Renick University Center and the Mardigian Library, which will both get extensive renovations in the coming years. The goal for both buildings is to consolidate core student services that are currently somewhat scattered across campus. Continuing a theme we’ve seen emerge over the past few years, the RUC will become the hub for everything related to student life, university events and enrollment services, including the One-Stop, student organizations, the food pantry, Student Government, Global Engagement, International Affairs, Veterans Affairs and Experience+. The library will become the center for core academic services, including Academic Success, Disability and Accessibility Services, ITS, as well as typical library access services. Both buildings will get several new social spaces that Glick calls “living rooms,” where students, faculty, and staff can hang out, work and collaborate.

One of the other cool parts of this project is a plan to transform the underutilized space between the buildings into a parklike setting for studying, socializing, relaxing, eating, tabling and community events. Glick says this outdoor renovation — plus a brand new main library entrance facing the RUC — will help connect the two buildings, giving the campus a central hub it’s never really had before.

The second major theme of the campus plan revolves around the changing nature of work and education. With more hybrid and online classes, as well as hybrid and remote work, Glick says we’re simply not using as much space as we used to, and the general approach for the plan is to consolidate uses into a denser footprint. Glick says this has two major payoffs. First, half-empty buildings still demand full-time heating, cooling and maintenance, so consolidating spaces helps the university’s fiscal and sustainability goals. “Also, when we spread our population around a larger space than we’re occupying, our campus loses that sense of vibrancy and activity,” Glick says. “And I think all of us want a place that feels engaged and energized by a community.”

Glick is plenty aware that talk of consolidating spaces can be a tricky subject for a workplace. “What we’re talking about really is a massive cultural shift. How we work and learn is changing dramatically,” she says. In general, Glick says they’re planning to develop space in ways that align to current and future needs rather than history. If you’re a staff member whose role demands being on campus every day, then you might not see anything change. But if you only come in three times a week, you might expect to share an office and coordinate schedules with a coworker. If you only come in once a week, your “office” might be a pack-in, pack-out hoteling space. In addition, she says buildings that house multiple units will have more shared communal and meeting spaces, to accommodate days when a supervisor wants everybody in the office on the same day. “The idea is that we’d have space so units could ‘peak’ on certain days, but not all units in the same building would peak on the same day,” Glick says.

One thing that’s a little different about this campus plan is that it’s being developed in a time of uncertainty. COVID taught us new ways to work, but what work looks like now is still something universities and workplaces are sorting out. Appetites for hybrid, remote, asynchronous and project-based courses continue to evolve too. And, of course, most Michigan universities are expecting to face enrollment challenges for many years due to a variety of factors, including shrinking classes of graduating high school seniors. As a result, Glick says her team is building the plan with more flexibility than they might otherwise. “We’re actually planning for multiple scenarios. So if we get a few years down the road, and we’re seeing more of a trend in a certain direction, we can adjust as needed,” she says.

"Campus planning is an essential process for any campus to examine the physical footprint, identify priorities and strategies, and develop long-term plans,” says Bryan Dadey, UM-Dearborn’s chief financial officer and vice chancellor of business affairs. “The campus plan is a key component for long-term financial management of the university to understand the campus needs balanced against our financial resources.”

Glick says the planning process is now in the data-gathering phase. There’s also a new campus planning website that will keep the campus community informed about the progress of the planning efforts and provide opportunities for community input.  The goal is to have a final, regents-approved version by spring 2024.