Take a look inside the $140M University of Michigan School of Dentistry renovation

ANN ARBOR, MI – The first renovation to the University of Michigan School of Dentistry in nearly 50 years will make it more adaptable for its next generation of patients, students and researchers.

That was a major theme Associate Dean for Patient Services Romesh Nalliah used to highlight the changes resulting from a recently-completed $140 million renovation of the dental school, including a 48,000 square foot addition, revamped entrances to improve access and a new special care clinic for patients with mobility issues or special healthcare needs.

The renovations create more space for training and collaboration for students, many of whom help the school treat around 700 patients a day.

“A big effort in this design strategy was to build adaptability,” Nalliah said. “We know that we’ll probably have this for many years. There are going to be technology changes in that time, so we want to have an adaptable space.”

The newly-renovated dental school is a project four years in the making, with the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting it for a few weeks near the midway point, while also causing school administrators to rethink how it safely provides patient care.

Referred to as UM’s Blue Renew project, the renovation added three floors within an existing courtyard and renovated 11 separate on-site dental clinics. From centralized dispensaries on each floor where students can check out equipment they’ll need for the day to research areas with open floor plan for lab space, it was designed with adaptability in mind.

Its new Integrated Special Care Clinic for patients with developmental disabilities and cognitive impairments illustrates the school’s overall vision for adaptability, Nalliah said, helping patients who tend to have unmet needs while giving students valuable experience working with patients who have unique needs. The clinic was funded with a $2 million grant from the Delta Dental Foundation.

“It not only allows us to see patients with special needs, it also allows us to train our students to treat those types of patients,” he said.

Integrated Special Care Clinic Interim Director Bryan Tervo said after working in a number of facilities, including his own office, the new clinic is recognizably more equipped to meet the needs of patients with special needs and mobility issues because the design took it into consideration.

“I feel like a lot of offices traditionally aren’t designed and equipped with patients with special needs and mobility issues in mind. That’s not in the forefront of their thinking when they design their offices,” he said. “This clinic is designed to meet the needs of those people and meet them where they are.”

The project’s new three-story addition includes two floors dedicated to research, with an open floor-plan for lab space that will allow researchers to better collaborate. Common areas, lab benches, write-up spaces and break areas also have been added, while a smaller version of the school’s famous courtyard remains, along with its 14-foot-tall Tooth Fairy sculpture.

While entrances remain on both the north and south ends of the building, the main entrance has essentially flipped to the south end of the facility, Dental School Director of Marketing and Communications Ray Aldrich said, with a covered, drive-through area and large waiting area. The new main entrance and redesigned registration area flow directly to pre-doctoral dental clinics, which are located on one floor for a more streamlined and efficient entry to the school and appointments.

The south entrance to the building along North University Avenue also was modified significantly, with a ground-level addition closed in to create seminar and common space, with the new entrance directing patients toward the registration area and clinics on the north side of the building. A third entrance on the east side of the building will be completed soon.

Beyond making the building more accessible, Nalliah noted that the renovation caused school leaders to re-examine its staffing model, adding positions like a social worker to work with patients who can’t afford care and connect them with the resources they need.

“It’s not only the building – we’ve changed some of our structures, as well,” he said.


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