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Posted on Sun, May 16, 2010 : 10 a.m.

As Pray-Harrold work begins, Eastern Michigan University professors settle into temporary digs

By Dave Gershman


Eastern Michigan University political science professor Barry Pyle works out of his new digs, a former dorm room at Hoyt Hall. He and other faculty members had to relocate while the Pray-Harrold classroom building is renovated over the next year and a half.

Lon Horwedel |

As the spring semester gets under way at Eastern Michigan University, its largest classroom building is off-limits, shuttered for renovations.

How EMU managed to keep running while closing the Pray-Harrold building, the academic heart of its campus, is a feat of logistics and planning. So far, the effort has worked.

“Given the sort of fear and the scale of the undertaking, we’re really happy and impressed with how smoothly the move has worked,” said Steve Benninghoff, a professor of written communication, last week.

The scale of the challenge was daunting. Not only was the seven-story Pray-Harrold home to 60 classrooms, which served 10,000 students on a typical day, but also 340 full-time equivalent staff and faculty worked in the building. It had 10 academic department offices, and a dean’s office.

Pray-Harrold 051610.JPG

The Pray-Harrold building on Eastern Michigan University's campus will undergo an extensive renovation over the next 18 months.

Lon Horwedel |

It also contained the campus’s main information technology data center.

But Pray-Harrold, built in 1969, needed significant renovations. For many years, it was EMU’s most pressing need. Most of the $42 million project will focus on the building's infrastructure, updating or replacing fire safety systems; heating, cooling and electrical systems; and data lines. About $31.5 million will be paid for by the state, said Scott Storrar, EMU’s director of facilities, planning and construction.

Construction is scheduled to begin soon, and wrap up in August 2011, allowing professors and staff to move back into offices and classrooms in time for the fall 2011 semester, he said.

Planning for the move began 18 months ago. While there's no space crunch during the spring and summer, EMU had to find classroom space to accommodate the courses that will need to be taught starting in September.

Every inch of campus was scrutinized. Many meeting spaces will double as classrooms, including spaces at the student center, McKenny Union, and even the EMU Board of Regents meeting room in Welch Hall. A new course software package that streamlines room scheduling helped optimize class scheduling, making the use of space on campus more efficient, said Wade Tornquist, associate dean in the College of Arts and Sciences.

While some of the larger academic offices moved into new quarters earlier, EMU moved faculty over a two-day period in early May between the end of the finals period and the start of the spring term’s classes. Professional movers were hired. The services cost $136,000.

Most faculty now have offices in two residence halls, Hoyt Hall and King Hall, on floors that are not being used as living quarters for students.

“Our question was how many phases do we do this in,” said Sean Braden, EMU’s manager of planning and design. Closing the entire Pray-Harrold building at the same time shortens the project’s timeline, prevents students and faculty from having to work and learn in a building that’s under construction, and lessens the cost of the work, officials said.

“We’re probably going to save at least 12 months of construction time,” said Braden, compared to taking a staggered approach to the project.

Senior Eva Heininger of South Lyon won’t benefit from the work, but she supports the project, especially since it’ll fix the temperature problems in the classrooms at Pray-Harrold, where one would be hot and another cold on the same day.

For now, she’ll have to adapt to taking classes outside of Pray-Harrold. “Life is always changing,” she said. “You might as well adapt to it.”

Student Mike Harris’ international microeconomics class now meets in a room in King Hall. The chalkboard is smaller, but other than that, he has no complaints.

Faculty also said that only minor problems have cropped up. Their offices are not as close to their colleagues' or department's offices as before. And they’ll be teaching in different classrooms, some makeshift.

“It’s just a mammoth endeavor,” said Cheryl Cassidy, a professor of written communication. “There’s going to be little glitches and little problems, but overall it’s working out really well.” Dave Gershman is a freelance writer for To reach the news desk, call 734-623-2530.


Craig Lounsbury

Mon, May 17, 2010 : 7:03 a.m.

Playing my "old fart" card, I remember when Pray Harrold was a field we played football on.


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 3:28 p.m.

Finally!!!As a graduate of EMU, I so happy for all the future students. This should have been done years ago!


Sun, May 16, 2010 : 9:08 a.m.

"prevents students and faculty from having to work and learn in a building thats under construction, officials said." These officials should take a walk through Mark Jefferson.