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Posted on Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 5:57 a.m.

Long-awaited Pray-Harrold renovation finished in time for fall semester at EMU

By Kellie Woodhouse

pray harrold.jpg

Students work in the new student commons area on the second floor of the Pray-Harrold Building at Eastern Michigan University on Thursday. photo

Jelani McGadney used to view Pray-Harrold, the largest and busiest classroom building on the Eastern Michigan University campus, as a place to avoid.

“It was dark, confusing, cold,” recalls McGadney, a senior who serves as EMU’s student government president. “It was not something that I was excited to have to approach every day.”

But after crews spent 16 months renovating the 42-year-old building —a $42 million project— McGadney says Pray-Harrold is now one of his favorite buildings on campus.

“It's nice to see the upgrade from an academic tombstone to an educational palace,” McGadney said of the 237,108 square-foot building, which serves about 10,000 students and 300 faculty each day.

Once the largest classroom building in the state, Pray-Harrold is home to 25 percent of EMU’s classes, but had not received any major updates since it was first built in 1969.

“It was a bit antiquated,” said university President Susan Martin.

The new building, McGadney says, is much more “open” and “bright.” It includes a glass-encased coffee shop and study area on the second floor and several study areas near elevators and windows. All the windows were replaced. Additionally, three of the four classroom auditoriums were completely remodeled and made handicap-accessible. Before the retrofitting, disabled students had to access the auditoriums through separate outdoor entrances, according to project architect Chris Mackey, a partner with Detroit architectural firm SHW Group.

“This building was built in the late 1960s and at that time people were not so aware of accessibility issues,” Mackey explained. “The university made accommodations over the years as well as they could, but this renovation gave us the opportunity to address it on a more comprehensive level.”

Mackey said perhaps the biggest and most difficult renovation was completely stripping out the electrical and mechanical infrastructure and installing new systems.

“We were putting new systems in a building that was designed 40 years ago, a building that wasn’t necessarily designed to house those things,” Mackey said. “The heights from floor to floor, the amount of space in the ceiling to get new systems in, made it very challenging.”

Mackey said an exterior “green wall” uses indigenous plants to help cool the building.

Though mostly satisfied with the renovated Pray-Harrold, McGadney did say he would have liked more electrical sockets installed so students could easily charge their laptops.

EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom said it took the university more than 10 years to successfully gain state funding for the project.

He said the project has been a top capital priority since November 1999, but was stalled because of the economy and cuts in the state’s appropriations budget. The state agreed to provide $31.5 million toward the project in September 2008.

The university contributed $10.5 million toward Pray-Harrold.

Martin said the university pushed hard for state funding, despite the “competitive” appropriations process.

“We had been behind in terms of getting projects; we had not had a (capital outlay) project in over 12 years,” she said.

State funding, Martin said, was “essential” in EMU’s effort to keep tuition low while still keeping its facilities competitive. Last year, EMU froze tuition, fees and housing rates. This year EMU raised tuition 3.65 percent, one of the lowest increases in the state.

McGadney said that while the funding was crucial, the wait for a new classroom building was too long.

“I don’t think that we should have had to wait that long,” McGadney said. “At the end of the day, students should not have to wait to have a place that they feel comfortable being educated in.”

Martin said the university saved $3 million and significantly reduced construction time by completely moving offices and classrooms —including the entire School of Arts and Sciences— out of the building, as opposed to utilizing a phased construction plan that would have allowed parts of the building to function while other sections were remodeled.

According to Martin, it took 186 tractor-trailer loads to empty Pray-Harrold before the retrofit. The $3 million savings went toward buying new furniture for the space, Martin said.

With Pray-Harrold finished, Martin said she is looking to Lansing again to help fund the renovation of Strong Hall, a facility built in 1957 that houses the university’s geology, geography, physics and astronomy departments.

The estimated cost of that renovation is $38 million. The university is asking the state to pitch in $27.5 million towards the project.

“Some of our facilities need some serious attention for our graduates to be competitive,” Martin sad.

Kellie Woodhouse covers higher education for Reach her at or 734-623-4602.



Dawn K

Thu, Sep 22, 2011 : 1:41 p.m.

As a Pubic Safety Administration graduate from EMU I spent 90% of my class time at PH! I dreaded going there but the library and Student Union was so far away especially in the winter. I could never find a comfortable place to study, the computer lab was always full. Im so glad the University was able to get this done. Ive been away at graduate school in Oklahoma but Im coming home ;) I will have to make a trip up to Ypsilanti to visit and see the wonderful changes they have made to PH! Kudos to the Administration of EMU for making this a beautiful reality! Next project....providing for adequate parking LOL ;)


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 10:33 p.m.

The prof's wanted chalk boards. Chalk is cheaper. No dried up markers. Can't use markers that mark white boards permanently. Those are the primary reasons for the chalk board.


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 5:05 p.m.

What's that about lipstick on a pig? Hallways seem to be painted by a kindergarten class. And chalkboards in the classrooms? Haven't be in Mark J. yet to compare, but will be disappointed if it is anything like Pray Harrold. It does seem lighter in PH, if I have to say something constructive.


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 4:16 p.m.

I've had classes in in the last 10 years. It was cold and dark (unless it was warm out, then it was stuffy and dark). On top of that, the classes I had all had those hard wooden desks with the attached desk tops not even large enough to fit a note pad onto that I hadn't seen since grade school back in the 70's and 80's. Most adults are too large to fit in those desks (especially me at a fit 6'2" and 235lbs) much less try to sit through a 3 hour class with only a 5-10 minute break. I hope those things didn't get moved back in for future students to have to endure.

Mark Salke

Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 3:51 p.m.

I had a class in Pray-Harrold in the mid-80s and it was kind of a wreck then! I'm happy for EMU students. Learning happens best in an inspirational environment.

Olan Owen Barnes

Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 3:03 p.m.

I graduated in 1970 and have found memories of the building - as brand new. Finished my Masters in 1975 and I do not think a single class there - seemed to me I reflected on it as a freshman building.

Geoff Larcom

Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 2:34 p.m.

All of the auditoriums were renovated in some fashion. But three of the four were reduced slightly to a more appropriate size for the classes held there. Those three were also equipped with new long tables and attached chairs, while the fourth remained its former, larger size, and retained the former setup, with (new) chairs and the attached writing surface. All auditoriums received acoustic improvements as well.


Tue, Sep 6, 2011 : 10:27 a.m.

Why wasn't the 4th auditorium renovated? Short-sighted? It's great that EMU did this. As to the cost, well that's what it costs. UM recently updated Couzens dorm, built in 1925 for $600,000, at a cost of $49,000,000. It's very nice, and these upgrades are costly.