UDM Law rededicates newly renovated facility

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– Photos by Robert Chase


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Cara Cunningham, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law professor and chair of the Building Task Force for the UDM Law Renovation Initiative, took some good-natured ribbing in the past 14 months as staff and students patiently endured the inconvenience.

But the recent rededication made the three-phase, $7 million project all worthwhile.

Dowling Hall — last renovated in the 1970s — has been restored to its majestic grandeur on the Riverfront campus in time for next year’s centennial.

Father Simon Hendry, superior of the Jesuit Community at UDM, blessed the building, accompanied by Dean Lloyd Semple, two faculty members, an alumnus, and a current student.

Each offered a blessing and mentioned an attribute they hoped the school would become known for in the years ahead.

Inductees into the Dean’s Honor Society then took guests on tours of the building.

“It’s fascinating how we were able to accomplish these renovations without losing a day of class time,” Cunningham says. “I credit Facilities Vice President Tammy Batcheller with getting the project done, and Dean Semple for his leadership, which kept us in our downtown location.”

Batcheller has been involved from the very start.

“We looked at how to renovate a building dating from 1890 and re-purposing it to today’s educational standards,” she says. “Dowling Hall is a jewel, and structurally in very good shape. It was built to last. It was exciting to attend the rededication event, to see the expression on the faces of those touring the building as they saw the drastic transformation.”

The construction management group McCarthy & Smith in Farmington Hills coordinated the renovations, under a very tight timeline. 

“We had to keep our classes operational, it was so tight — they did an amazing job, working with the Facilities Department to coordinate things,” Cunningham says.

Pulling it all off required flexibility and co-operation. For a while, administrators and faculty worked in cubicles in the cafeteria. Ten days of December exams were held in the Courtyard Marriott, and summer classes were held in the Dental School on the UDM Corktown campus.

“We had a massive shift of people,” Cunningham says. “We moved 52 individual office spaces — you can imagine what that was like, 52 offices with computers, books and office furniture.”

The first phase, in summer 2010, included a renovation of the cafeteria, student lounge, and atrium.

Phase 2, in a five-week window at yearend, renovated 11 classrooms and rewired the building for Wi-Fi laptop use.

The third phase that started in May, dealt with the library and media needs.

“We renovated all four floors of the library, one at a time so it never had to close,” Cunningham says. “Students worked around the dust and noise. We could not have done it without their cooperation and patience.”

The Eugene A. Gargaro Jr. Student Service Center — a “one-stop shop” also known to students as “The Hub” — is housed in the 1890 chapel, previously used as a lecture hall.

A dean’s suite and alumni relations are housed on the second floor.

Planned future renovations include reworking the entrance and courtyard and renovating law clinics.

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