Northwood University plans to bring the Midland community together on campus

When the dams were breached on the Tittabawassee River in May of last year, Northwood University in Midland was severely flooded — the campus suffered more than $17 million worth of damage. 

“During the flood, we had about 30 billion gallons of water come through our campus,” says Justin Marshall, vice president of advancement and business development at Northwood University. 

Now, a year after the disaster, Northwood University is in the middle of installing protections against future floods. They’re also reimagining their central path through campus, the Mall Walk, as a more community-focused location.

A year after the flood, Northwood University is in the middle of installing protections against future floods.“There are two main components to this project: the underground component and the above-ground component,” says Marshall. “The underground component is really, in my opinion, probably practically the most important part.” 

The underground component of the project is a “passive water retention system,” or a mix of pipes and a retention basin under the university that will collect rainwater, floodwater, or high-level groundwater that will be released when appropriate.

“It’s giving us a real opportunity to protect Strosacker Library, Jordan Academic Hall, and Griswold Communications Center,” says Marshall. “All of those facilities, year-round, deal with water issues because of the low level of the buildings and the lower level of Midland in general.”

Students will be able to make use of everything offered in the reimagined Mall Walk, but Marshall hopes that the community of Midland will want to take advantage of the new space. The year-round issues include destroyed tiling and sub-flooring and issues with water getting into electrical outlets. Those damages force the university to shut down parts of campus for renovations.

“For a small campus, [that] doesn’t seem like a big deal,” says Marshall. “But it’s a fairly difficult thing for us to shut down a main academic hall when you don’t have 50 other academic halls to choose from.”

The water from the retention system will be utilized for various needs on campus, including feeding plants. Once complete, the system and the basin will be hidden — no one will notice the complex feat of engineering protecting them from below. 

“The stuff that [people] will notice is what we’re kind of considering the first stage, or the first phase, of a Mall Walk reimagination,” says Marshall. 

The Mall Walk will be a four-season space according to Marshall, which means there will be outdoor components accessible all year. 

“We have facilities that are enclosed so there would be outdoor, large pergolas, or a concert, or academic lectures, or space for the community to gather... whatever it might be,” says Marshall. “There will be enclosed spaces that have their own heating and everything else that students can use for their registered student organization throughout the year.”

Students will be able to make use of everything offered in the reimagined Mall Walk, but Marshall hopes that the community of Midland will want to take advantage of the new space. 

Northwood President Kent MacDonald takes the stage at the Mall Walk groundbreaking event.“It would be a big disappointment to me if this project were only utilized and appreciated by our students,” says Marshall. “We want this to be a community project just as much as it is a project for our students.”

Northwood University is hoping to host events and activities for the community to attend, put on by different groups and organizations within the area, while also offering a welcoming gathering place when nothing is going on.

“We want to utilize this space to host local festivals, art fairs, craft festivals, any sort of winter festivals or concerts,” says Marshall. “We [also] want people to come out to this space casually and without an invitation or without a purpose, that they want to come with their family and just spend time sitting outside, listening to music, having a family picnic, in that space.”

Phase one of the project cost $3 million and was funded by over 280 donors, including the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, the Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, and the Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundation, with no money taken from government programs. 

The project was funded by over 280 donors.“It’s the first phase of a much larger Mall Walk renovation that we’ll be fundraising for and planning in the near future,” says Marshall. "... It's safe to say that Phase 2 will be larger in scope than Phase 1 and require significant philanthropic support."

The goal is to have the project completed by the first week of October this year, in time for the Northwood University International Auto Show, pending any delays in construction.

Read more articles by Patrick Sochacki.

Patrick Sochacki, Oscoda native, has lived in Bay City since he was 7 years old. He is a freelance journalist for Catalyst Midland, produces news stories for Delta College Public Radio, and is a freelance podcast producer. He was also editor-in-chief for The Delta Collegiate, Delta College’s student-run newspaper. He can be reached on Twitter @PatrickSochacki.