Amid the humidity in the Strong Hall Atrium, it was all smiles and high fives.
On Wednesday, April 19, the partnership between Eastern Michigan University and local school districts grew even stronger when the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium (WEOC) and its Early College Alliance program donated $200,000 toward the renovation of Strong Hall, a salient STEM-focused facility at the university.
Superintendents from the Washtenaw County area and partner school districts were on hand for the event, as the first public displays of the design concepts were unveiled.
The Early College Alliance (ECA) is one of three programs under the WEOC and is headquartered on the EMU campus. It is an educational program tailored to help involve high school students into the post-secondary learning environment, allowing students to earn up to 60 transferrable credits as part of their high school graduation requirements at no cost. The program currently has approximately 430 students enrolled at Eastern through the ECA. The WEOC is comprised of the nine school districts in Washtenaw County with the goal of providing a plethora of educational strategies and options to local high school students.
“Eastern Michigan University has provided tremendous support to ECA over the years,” Dave Dugger, executive director of the WEOC said.
“This donation recognizes both WEOC’s and our county school district’s gratitude to the University in being an exceptional educational partner. It also underscores WEOC’s commitment to investing in Eastern as a place where Washtenaw County students can go to school and excel in general education and STEM disciplines – both through the ECA and after they graduate high school.”
The donation will help to counteract the University’s share of funding the renovations, which has been included on the state of Michigan’s capital funding plan. The estimated cost to renovate Strong Hall is $39.5 million. With a mix of 75 percent state and 25 percent University funds, Eastern’s contribution would be about $10 million.
Strong Hall is a part of Eastern’s Science Complex, and currently houses key science programs, including the Astronomy, Physics and Geology departments. It was first proposed that Strong Hall would be the next building on campus to be renovated last fall, after the King Hall Graffiti Incident and subsequent makeover took place. With more than 25 percent of the University’s STEM lab classrooms in the building, university officials are confident that these renovations will be a blessing to the university.
“I’m very excited to be a small part of what I think is a pretty significant renovation to Strong Hall,” Washtenaw Intermediate School District Superintendent Dr. Scott Menzel said.
“The fact that the Washtenaw Educational Options Consortium also contributed in this way, is pretty significant. When 21 percent of the science labs are in this building, it’s a significant part of the educational experience whether it’s for high school students a part of the Early College Alliance or traditional students coming to Eastern for their undergraduate programs, the renovation will make a great deal of difference for them.”
The project will involve the renovation and overhaul of the entire 80,713 square foot building, including a facelift to classrooms, labs, lecture halls and faculty offices.
EMU President James Smith was also on hand to share his vision of the project as well as to extend gratitude to everyone involved including an unsung hero who helped get this process on the fast track.
“This project had languished for a number of years and Don (former interim president Donald Loppnow) felt as an interim, because he knew campus well that he could really push that forward as his last kind of big act as interim president,” said President Smith.
“So literally he called many, many legislators that he knew and asked for help and commitment, because he knew that this would help solidify STEM here at Eastern, and I think it was his hard work, having a few friends on the legislature, having some good lobbyists working with us that made this happen. I’ll be forever grateful to Don for this, and for a number of other reasons as well.”
After review of the current construction plans and the state’s capital outlay approval process, the University is prepared to close the building and begin construction this summer. After that, it’s business as usual, however President Smith was candid on what the next plans for building renovation here on campus will be.
“You don’t know because you throw out ideas to the state, but Sill Hall needs a lot of work. We’re adding Mechanical Engineering in the fall and we have some donor interest in building and redesigning some labs, but the building itself will need to be massively overhauled. Is that a one, two, three year time horizon? I don’t know that yet, but we’re going to talk to the board this week as we have an executive session Thursday and a little time Friday morning to talk about that and that will probably be the next one that we pitch.”
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