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Lawyers Club renovations right on schedule

By John Masson
Dec. 20, 2012

This place is going to be nice.

It's not that living in Michigan Law's Lawyers Club wasn't nice before. After all, there are bound to be some serious benefits to living 50 yards from your classroom during the depths of a Michigan winter.

But the $39 million renovation—now about halfway complete—is going to make Lawyers Club living that much better when the complex reopens this coming fall. Out will be the communal bathrooms that, while state-of-the-art when the building opened in 1924, were becoming a little less warmly received in 2012. In will be individual bathrooms for students, or, for those who'd like to save a few bucks, semi-private bathrooms shared with one other resident.

Also out will be a centrally controlled, vaguely medieval climate control system. In: air conditioning and heating controlled by adjustable thermostats in each room. Also in: a series of 11 community rooms, featuring kitchenettes, flat-screen TVs, ice machines, and other amenities, all designed to enhance that unique sense of collegiality that Michigan Law is known for.

Less visible but equally important are upgrades to the building's safety systems: a brand-new sprinkler system, swipe-card entry, and smoke detectors, to name a few, said Lawyers Club Manager Diane Nafranowicz.

The original benefits of life in the Lawyers Club, of course, will remain unchanged.

"Location, location, location," Nafranowicz said. "You are part of the Law Quad, and that is probably the most iconic set of buildings at the University of Michigan."

Nafranowicz said the project, which is on time and on schedule, has been a huge challenge but one that has also been well worth it. Its goals were ambitious: retain the majestic exterior of the buildings while essentially creating brand-new buildings within those same walls.

Much of the project is being paid for with a $20 million gift from Charles Munger, HLLD '10, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and a generous supporter of Michigan Law. The remaining funds are coming from the central university's investment proceeds and the Lawyers Club, which is run by a separately incorporated, self-sustaining non-profit organization.

Walbridge, the same construction manager that oversaw the on-time and on-budget construction of the Law School's South Hall and Aikens Commons, is coordinating 23 separate trade contractors who are performing the work at the Lawyers Club. The project was designed by SmithGroupJJR of Detroit and Hartman-Cox of Washington, D.C.

Present plans call for the major work to be completed by July 1, 2013, with students moving in Aug. 26, Nafranowicz said. So far, as many as 30 students have signed leases for next academic year, including several who lived in the Lawyers Club before the renovations and who want to live in it again once the work is complete.

The post-renovation capacity will be 227 students, down from the current capacity of 251, as some of that space was used to create private rooms, bathrooms, and the well-equipped community rooms. An eight-and-a-half-month lease—which includes wi-fi, all utilities, and 12 meals each week—runs about $12,000.

"You can live in an apartment your entire life," Nafranowicz said. "But the opportunity to live in the Lawyers Club is once in a lifetime. It's just so wonderful to get up every morning and have the whole University at your disposal. And when you step out to go to class at 8 a.m. the snow's already plowed, the carpet's been vacuumed—you're ready to go."

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