Grawn of a New Age: Central Michigan University's oldest on-campus building gets much needed makeover says faculty, students

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Grawn Hall, home of the College of Business Administration, on Sept. 15 on CMU's campus.

Grawn Hall's grand reopening ceremony Thursday, Sept. 21 will mark the end of the two-year, $10.8 million renovation of the oldest building on Central Michigan University's campus.  

Originally proposed in 2015 as a way to modernize the College of Business Administration and the building it operates in, the project has seen more than 16,200-square-feet of the historic hall remade, refurbished and reimagined for a new era of business at CMU.

The most significant change is the addition of a 6,600-square-foot atrium on the west side of the building. The atrium will serve as event space and a location for students and faculty to work and socialize.

Obinna Obilo, assistant professor of marketing, said he has already has received positive feedback from his students about the new work space.

 "They can work in this building, in these spaces, instead of having to meet in the library or scheduling something in a coffee shop," Obilo said. "That's what (students) have been raving about. Faculty are excited, as well."

Students aren't the only ones who will benefit from the improvements. Obilio said the new space will make life easier for faculty to spend time with students and offers a nearby space to prepare for classes. 

"Now if I have some time between my classes to review some notes, I don't have to sit in my clunky classroom chair or walk all the way back to my (Smith Hall) office," Obilo said. "We have these spaces here now where I can sit down, drink some coffee and go over my notes – I have some of that excitement too."

With the new atrium, the CBA can host many of its own events, something that wasn't possible for the hall in the past. The first major event to be held in the new space will be a data analytics conference Friday Sept. 22. 

Charles Crespy, dean of the CBA, hopes improvements to the building will encourage students to be more active and involved with their education. Speaking with Central Michigan Life in July, Crespy explained his plans to strengthen the communication between the CBA faculty and students. 

"If we have faculty members sitting (in the atrium) everyday, it's a lot easier for students to approach them for questions and advice," Crespy said. "If we can encourage that, we've done a good job because we've gotten (students) more focused on business education, and spending more quality time with faculty." 

Clarkston senior Karoline Holsbeke thinks the renovation has made Grawn more accommodating for student use. A member of Pi Sigma Epsilon, Holsbeke said the new atrium offers more space for student organizations to socialize with the student body.

"It's definitely an improvement from what we had," Holsbeke said. "It's good timing for the business students to have an upgrade. I definitely like spending time in here a lot more now. There are more places to study and do homework between classes." 

Other major additions to the building include the installation of a Which Wich Superior Sandwiches shop, the conversion of two second-floor classrooms into public study spaces and improvements to the building's fire suppression systems. 

A Historic Change 

Named after CMU's first president Charles Grawn, the building opened in July 1915. The hall served as the home for CMU's agriculture, psychology, geography, biology, physics and chemistry departments. 

Due to the original Warriner Hall being destroyed in a fire, Grawn is the oldest standing building on campus. Grawn itself received damage from two separate fires in 1933 and 1954.

Grawn Hall was one of the first steel buildings constructed in Michigan. During the 2017 construction of the new atrium, workers uncovered several beams bearing the Carnegie Steel Company insignia – Carnegie Steel has been defunct since 1901. 

After the construction of the Brooks Hall science building in 1964, Grawn replaced Smith Hall as the home of the CBA. That move required a $850,000 renovation. Grawn was renovated again in 1989 with the addition of the $1.7 million, 20,000-square-foot Applied Business Studies Complex.

In February 2015, Crespy submitted the $10.8 million budget and renovation plan to CMU's Board of Trustees. The project was presented on the condition that half of the cost would be covered by donations from investors and alumni. President George Ross promised the university would match those donations dollar for dollar.

Between 200 and 300 donors contributed to the project. At the time of Grawn's grand reopening Sept. 21, the amount of money received through donations will be around $4 million – just short of the $5.4 million goal.

Crespy is confident the goal amount for donations will be met in the near future.

Grawn of a New Age

Marketing professor Mike Garver can only describe the renovations in one way: "game-changer."

"In the short time we've had (the new building), it's had a major impact on how we conduct business here," said Garver, who has worked at CMU for more than 20 years. "It just screams of professionalism. It feels like a business environment, where business things happen."

"I'm thinking about starting to dress up in a suit again. It just feels like we have a new building and it's allowing us to do things that a modern-day business school needs to do." 

Grawn's new look goes a long way towards making the space seem more professional and inviting, said Minnesota junior Cassondra Boothroyd. A recreation and event management major, Boothroyd appreciates the atmosphere the building has now. She said she finds the atrium to be better than the Charles V. Park Library or Bovee University Center. 

"It's so open and welcoming," Boothroyd said. "It really shows how Central is moving forward as a community, which is really exciting to see."

The push to bring Grawn Hall into the 21st century began when Crespy became dean of the CBA in 2010. When he first took the position, Crespy was asked by former Provost Gary Shapiro what he envisioned the future of the college to look like. 

Crespy recalled reading numerous studies that pointed toward a future where every student had a laptop or tablet, which meant creating more computer labs wasn't going to benefit a modern university. 

Along with the rest of CBA's faculty, Crespy pushed for an update to Grawn that would lend itself to helping students develop skills to make them attractive to employers – namely, better social skills and an emphasis on teamwork. 

"We can turn out 21st century graduates that can compete with anybody if we get more quality time with them, if they get more experience working in teams, speaking publicly and competing in competitions," Crespy said. "All of those things we value greatly. All of those things can be greatly enhanced by how we redesign the physical facilities – giving (students) an opportunity to do what they do well in a space where they want to be." 


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