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Grawn Hall

For business college, it’s time to fawn over Grawn

$10.8 million makeover positions CMU’s longest-serving building for the future

Contact: ​Jeff Johnston

​Chuck Crespy stood in the afternoon sunlight that fills Grawn Hall's soaring new atrium.

"Right about here," he said, "is where the dumpster was."

Crespy, dean of Central Michigan University's College of Business Administration, loves pointing out before-and-afters at Grawn, the college's home and the building with the longest history on campus — a history that's growing longer.

Built 102 years ago, Grawn reopens today after a 17-month, $10.8 million addition and renovation that revamped 16,200 square feet of existing space, added 6,600 square feet and woke up its "tired" collection of classrooms to modern purposes and possibilities.

A Which Wich sandwich shop facilitates working lunches with colleagues and instructors. Handles on the backs of plush chairs invite rearranging for impromptu team sessions. Skype-ready "huddle" spaces with flat screens and whiteboards stand ready for global teleconferences.

And that atrium where the trash bins and loading dock used to be? With its drop-down screen and the right seating, it becomes a multimedia conference space for 280 people.

More than anything else, Grawn Hall resembles a modern corporate office — which is exactly the point, Crespy said.

No longer will incoming business students be reminded of stodgy high school classrooms.

"Now," he said, "you're leaving high school and coming to a professional business environment."


Home away from home

Up to 4,000 students spend time in Grawn on a given day, Crespy said.

The building previously was a place where students arriving early for class might sit on hallway floors to wait. After class, there was little incentive to stick around. An hour or two a day was about as much as anyone dared expect students to spend there.

Now, there's a new expectation.

"We want market share — an extra two to three hours of our students' time," Crespy said.

More time in the business school means more connections with peers and faculty, more exposure to student organizations, internship opportunities, study abroad programs, mock interviews and more.

Crespy envisions a student arriving for an 8 a.m. class, sitting down for coffee with an instructor while waiting for a class at 10, then sticking around for lunch and on into the afternoon — "more a day at the office than a drive-thru experience."

The case for a fresh face

Why renovate in the first place? Competition from other universities' up-to-date facilities, for starters.

A new business building would have required years of planning and significantly more funding.

"We saw a need for an immediate change," Crespy said.

And Grawn was up to the challenge.  It has good bones, as they say.

Grawn's skeleton of Carnegie steel is unusual for the age of the building, which also includes later additions, from 1965 and 1989.

The makeover helps with education, student experience and recruiting.

That last item also gets a boost from Grawn's prime location on Warriner Mall. The building's new academic advising offices look out on the mall so future students can imagine walking the tree-lined paths.

"That's the first step in a process to engage our students," Crespy said.

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