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Ann Arbor — After an 18-month renovation, University of Michigan officials will soon learn if it is possible to replicate something as iconic as the campus' Diag.

UM officialsplan to show off the results inside the newly renovated Michigan Union when it opens Monday after the $85.6 million project. 

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The Diag, outdoors in the heart of UM's campus, is one of the busiest places in Ann Arbor, where many students walk through daily as concerts, fundraisers and protests are underway. In the center of the Diag is a brass block M. 

When UM began renovating the most iconic building on campus, students said they wanted the union's outdoor courtyard on the first floor to feel like an indoor Diag, said Susan Pile, senior director of university unions and auxiliary services.

That's why officials enclosed the courtyard, added a big screen for game watch parties and a small stage for acoustic performances, poetry slams and small lectures. In the middle of the enclosed courtyard: a bronze block M that was relocated from the fourth floor.

"(Students) wanted the serendipitous interaction, the multi-faceted events that happen on the Diag," said Pile.

The 250,000-square-foot Michigan Union is used every day by about 9,500 students, faculty, staff and visitors.

"This might be a place when you run into a friend as you are walking to class; you can stop, grab a bite to eat, hang out, take a little break between classes, as well as additional programming ... We think this is going to be a new hub of activity for the union but for campus in general."

Many other changes await visitors inside the renovated Michigan Union.

There's more open space, natural light and wrought iron railing replicating what was in the orginal 1919 building. There's less space for office and infrastructure, more space for student and community needs, along with new restaurants and retailers. 

One feature that Pile expects will generate interest among students is the dedicated spaces for the university's 1,500-plus student groups, known as the IdeaHub. 

The hub includes 22 rooms for student organizations to reserve, two movement rooms for performing arts and fitness, and a creative studio where organizations can paint and craft.

"It's a new way for us to think about space for student organizations," said Pile, noting that 80 student groups used to have office spaces on the fourth floor, mostly for storage.

"What we heard from our student organizations group was they wanted a model for all student organizations to meet, to plan their events, learn leadership in a much more visible space in the union," Pile said. "So that is what we created with the IdeaHub."

The new and improved Michigan Union will include new restaurants including Panera Bread, Taco Bell, Sweetwaters Coffee Tea, MI Burger, Mama DeLuca's and Blue Market. Returning vendors include Panda Express, Subway, Barnes & Noble and the UM Credit Union.

Another feature is the relocation of a double-sided fireplace adjacent to the Willis Ward Lounge — honoring the African American football player and track star who was benched during a controversial football game in 1934 because of his race. The incident led teammate Gerald Ford, who became the nation's 38th president four decades later, to threaten to quit the squad.

The Michigan Union was renovated with considerations of the needs of current and future students while honoring the architecture and history of the 101-year-old building.

For example, the building's 540 original windows have been preserved but upgraded to improve efficiency. A sprinkler system was added, along with technology upgrades, said Pile.

"The union was founded first by students as a club ... (and) has always been a central location for student involvement, leadership, learning and social connection," said Pile. "The renovation will honor that history and serve for another 100 years as the place where Michigan memories are made."

Student Brittney Edwards, a 21-year-old junior studying film, television and media, said she loves the space.

"It's a great space," said Edwards. "I spend a lot of time in the union. I was only here a year until it shut down but spent a lot of time here. I love all the changes. They are amazing." 

The Michigan Union's renovation was funded by a $65 fee that students pay per term. The funding also covers renovations to other UM recreational and sports buildings, such as the Intramural Sports Building and the North Campus Recreation Building.

UM will open the doors at 11:45 a.m. Monday with a noon dedication ceremony in the enclosed courtyard. President Mark Schlissel, vice president for student life E. Royster Harper and regent chair Ron Weiser will preside, with a few student leaders and alums speaking.

Also present will be 2012 alumna Vivian Yu, who with another student created Building A Better Michigan, which launched the effort to create the student fee that funded the renovations.

An open house and tours will follow.

kkozlowski@detroitnews.com

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