YPSILANTI – Light streams through a formerly dark and cramped student gathering area, a space now rebuilt into a vibrant, two-story centerpiece atrium area in which students can socialize, relax and study. Striking light fixtures that call to mind images of the planet Saturn hang from the ceiling.
Professors and lecturers hold class in modern classrooms and labs that are mixed with spacious and flexible areas for research and instruction. Throughout the building, students chat in comfortable areas where they once sat on floors or old random chairs.
Everywhere, it seems, light streams in. No longer is it a campus eyesore, a nondescript building hunkered down in the middle of Eastern Michigan University. It’s now a showpiece, an attractive yet highly functional facility aimed at educating students in STEM disciplines.
No, this is not your father’s or mother’s or even your sister’s or brother’s Strong Hall.
'There is space to think'
The building opened with the start of Winter 2019 classes, a milestone for Eastern as it marked the completion of the third and final phase of the Science Complex. Students and faculty were quick to praise the new building.
“The new place is incredible,” said Matt Jones, a graduate student in the Historic Preservation Program, which is housed in Strong. “There is space to move around, but most importantly, there is space to think … The architectural design is clear, clean, and there are interior windows looking onto offices and classrooms that let the inhabitant breathe easier and not feel trapped inside a hot, dusty building. I really can't believe the change. It's stunning …
“Adding to the striking aspect of the new building is the fact that you can still see the old building in the layout – it isn't completely erased. I take a little comfort in that because as an HP grad student, I never want everything to disappear, even if a total demolition/renovation is undertaken.”
Amanda Rielinger, a senior at Eastern, sat with her laptop at one of the tall study tables in the atrium. “it’s a lot brighter – the old building felt cramped and dirty,” she said. “This is a much more welcoming space and so much better for students and faculty.”
“The renovation is beyond amazing,” said Kelly Victor-Burke, co-director of Eastern’s Geography Geotourism and Historic Preservation concentration. “It is thrilling for our students to be taking courses in one of the most technologically advanced buildings on campus.”
A lure for prospective students
Matthew Cook, a professor of historic preservation and cultural geography, cites what he calls “incredibly well-thought-out spaces to work together, study in, and get to know each other outside of class.”
“Those sorts of architectural details along with the major upgrades to all the building systems (technology, lighting, ambiance, HVA) will make Strong Hall one of EMU's signature buildings for decades to come.”
Nancy Bryk, director of EMU’s graduate program in Historic Preservation, located in Strong Hall, said that prospective students have already inquired about entering the program.
“They were amazed by our new digs,” she said. “Strong will be a great (student) recruiting tool.”
Beth Kubitskey, associate dean for students and curriculum in the College of Education and a professor of physics and astronomy, recalls teaching in Strong Hall in 1988.
“Even then, it had a rustic feel, but the faculty and students filled it with energy …” she recalled. “Finally, Strong has received the attention it so deserves. Now the space reflects the exciting learning that has been going on there for years. It is a celebration of a commitment to science and the learning of science that has long been a focus of the faculty – a space where students can learn and grow in science.”
Help from the state of Michigan
Construction on Strong Hall began in Fall 2017, and involved a complete building renovation and addition for a crucial facility that houses numerous labs for STEM classes. The project involved renovation of the entire 80,713 square feet structure – both the visually striking changes and additions along with the necessary updating of architectural, structural, mechanical and electrical systems.
The project, which was supported by the state of Michigan, cost $40 million. At a funding mix of 75 percent state and 25 percent University, Eastern's cost share was about $10 million.
Strong Hall was built in 1957 and had not received any significant overall improvements since its construction. It had been Eastern’s top capital outlay project since fiscal year 2010, the year after EMU received state funding for its Pray-Harrold Building renovation.
Meanwhile Eastern invested $90 million in the renovation of the adjacent Mark Jefferson building and construction of 80,000 square feet of new academic facilities, a spectacular building addition that includes a planetarium suspended above an atrium area.
And now, the project, the largest in Eastern’s history, is complete, with each of the three adjacent buildings or stages connected to make up the whole Science Complex.
“The transformation of Strong Hall over the past 18 months is truly amazing and gives me a sense of pride and excitement that I get to teach and work in this space,” said Christopher Gellasch, a professor of geography and geology. “This renovation reaffirms EMU’s commitment to our STEM programs and improving the educational experience for our students.”
About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 19,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Health and Human Services; Technology, and its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.