Major project in the works for the University of Michigan Museum of Natural History building?
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
"We are studying it," said Timothy Slottow, U-M's chief financial officer. "It's very old and we are looking at meeting the needs of [the College of Literature, Science and Arts] biology faculty."
Slottow said the university is considering a "major renovation" of the 1920s-era building, officially called the Ruthven Exhibit Building.
"There's lots of options," Slottow said.
"We don't know what we're going to do. We haven't come to the Board [of Regents] with a project or plan yet," he continued. "No decisions have been made and we're still looking at it."
The building was constructed in 1928, according to the U-M Bentley Historical Library records, and houses the university's natural history exhibit museum and offices and museums pertaining to insects, fish, birds, mammals, anthropology, zoology, paleontology and mollusks. There are also three classrooms in the building. The Museum of Natural History itself has existed since the mid-1800s.
Paul Berry, associate chair for LSA's museums collections and director of the the school's herbarium, has heard that the school is also considering expanding the building.
"A major renovation is sort of the context of this plan," said Berry, who added that fellow faculty are wondering whether the school is "going to tear down part of the building" to make way for an expansion.
"There's sort of a historical element there, and nobody knows what is going to happen," said Berry, who explained he has a limited knowledge of U-M's plans for the building.
Daniel Brenner | AnnArbor.com
There are two LSA biology departments: the department of ecology and evolutionary biology and the department of molecular, cellular and developmental biology. They're currently housed in the Edward Henry Kraus natural science building on the Diag. That building —constructed in 1915, according to university records— isn't ideally appointed for laboratories and collaborative spaces.
The department of ecology and evolutionary biology does have some offices and research space in the existing Museum of Natural History building, although the core of the department is located in the natural science building.
"We've known about this for a while, we've been looking at ways to meet the needs of the biology folks for close to 10 years," Slottow said.
If a renovation or expansion were to take place, it's unclear which museum capacities would stay in the building and whether both biology departments would move into the altered building.
Berry said administrators have said the Museum of Natural History exhibits likely will continue to be displayed inside the building after the project is completed. Collections that aren't on display likely will be moved to a facility on Varsity Drive in Ann Arbor, he said. The school recently transported much of the museum's alcohol-preserved collections to the Varsity Drive location.
"We've been assured the museum itself, the public museum, will remain." said Berry.
Added university spokesman Rick Fitzgerald: "While there are no specific plans, all of our discussions have included a future museum." Fitzgerald said the university has made no decisions as to where museum exhibits will be displayed.
Meanwhile, the school plans to move more specimens from the museum to the Varsity Drive location in the near future.
"Moving these collections is separate from moving people, moving these collections doesn't mean we're moving people," Fitzgerald said.
Planning for a major construction project is a lengthy process at the university, which plans physical plant expansions several years in the future. Once a college's needs are established, officials need to come up with a conceivable plan for renovation or expansion on a campus that already is crunched for space and has hundreds of millions in construction projects taking place at any one time.
The 10-year average for annual construction costs at the school is $523 million, according to university figures.
For example, it took several years for the school to identify solutions for space needs of the nursing school and bring plans forward to U-M's governing body, the Board of Regents. With the nursing school, the university gradually acquired property near Kingsley Street, nearby the existing nursing school facility, and earlier this year announced construction of a $50 million new building. Funding also can be an issue. Despite apparent need, renovations to the School of Music, Theater and Dance were delayed until appropriate funding could be found. That school will soon undergo a $23 million renovation, funded in large part by an $8 million donation.