NMU to renovate Harden Hall for $31.6 million


North Wind Archives

HARDEN RENOVATION — Harden Hall, which currently houses the Lydia M. Olson Library, on the second and third floors will have multiple sections closed off until January 2026.

Fischer Genau

Parts of Harden Hall and the Lydia M. Olson Library have remained unaltered since the building’s construction over 50 years ago. But that’s about to change. 

After a long planning process and delays due to building cost concerns, the renovation of Harden Hall and the library is moving forward, with hopes to start construction later this year.

“The library has been identified by the university as a top-level need for quite a few years,” said Leslie Warren, dean of the library and instructional support. 

Construction was initially planned for May of 2023, but a dramatic increase in the price of building materials meant that projected costs exceeded the budget. To address this, the university drafted plans to combine the renovation of Harden Hall with the construction of a new center for the College of Business for their combined budget of $31.6 million. 

The new plan, however, included compromises for all parties involved. Last Friday, a meeting with university administration determined that the entire $31.6 million would go towards the renovation of Harden Hall while the new College of Business center is shelved for the time being.

This money will be used to refit and modernize existing space in Harden Hall, as well as build an additional 18,000 square feet of new space. The new library will include more electrical outlets, an emerging technologies area with VR learning, and the space will be “more welcoming” for students, Warren said.

“More welcoming is going to mean better positioning of our staff and how they interact, better lighting, more attractive design, more comfortable furniture, more study rooms,” Warren said.

Interiors and amenities are not the only things being improved. Jim Thams, director of facilities and campus planning, said that the replacement of heating, cooling and electrical systems will contribute to the goal of sustainability on campus. All existing light fixtures will be replaced with less energy-consuming LEDs while other systems will function in a more efficient way, decreasing output based on the demands of the building.

One feature that Warren is excited about is the new learning commons area, which will unite the tutoring areas on the main floor of the new library. 

“Students need to have ready access to tutoring,” Warren said. “Having that buried downstairs on the first floor behind Fieras is not very student friendly.”

The renovation will also bring students closer to the campus core by relocating the political science, economics, history and philosophy departments from Gries Hall to Harden Hall.

NMU is making this investment during a time of relative financial uncertainty–enrollment has declined since the COVID-19 pandemic, as have high school graduation rates across the state of Michigan. A continued decline in enrollment would lead to a decline in revenue for the university. 

“Things will be a little bit tighter,” said Matt Franti, senior director of budget and finance.

Leslie Warren said it is necessary to balance the need to invest in facilities and the need to save money, but that investment is necessary to attract and retain students.

“If we get to the point where we’re not making the investments in our facilities, our programs, in our faculty, in our services, then we’re not able to serve our students as well,” Warren said.

Thams also acknowledged the problems posed by a decrease in enrollment when it comes to investing in facilities.

“You can argue it both ways,” Thams said. “Maybe we shouldn’t because of revenue. You could argue that facilities attract students. One thing that is constant is your facilities are always aging. You always have to take care of your facilities.”

Franti said that funding for this project will not cause budget cuts elsewhere. The $31.6 million to renovate Harden Hall will come from the university’s capital reserves, which is money that accumulates from funds leftover at the end of each year and is not a part of the school’s annual budget. 

The university hopes to begin construction this year, Thams said, but the project timeline is still uncertain. Once they break ground, Warren said the project will take at least a year, maybe two to complete. Library materials will be relocated during construction, and Warren said that “we’re going to do everything we can to avoid that disruption during the semester.”

Warren said that though she is often caught up in the day-to-day of executing the project, she is looking forward to a modern space that better meets the needs of students.

“I want a space that serves our students now, not a space that was designed for what libraries were expected to be fifty years ago,” Warren said.