You’re invited to join the Eastern Michigan University community in celebrating the renovation of Rackham during an open house from 4-6 p.m. Tuesday, October 13. Rackham has just undergone a multi-phased, multi-year, $6.5 million renovation. Today, it houses renovated classrooms and labs for the following programs in the College of Health and Human Services: Exercise Science, Nursing, Occupational Therapy, Office of Nutrition Services, Orthotics and Prosthetics, Physician Assistant and Social Work. Refreshments and light hors d’oeuvres will be served. Be among the first 250 to attend to receive a mini EMU-branded first aid kit
The building has a fascinating history. Normal College opened the first Special Education Department in 1915. Originally housed in Welch Hall, the department received a building of their own in 1938 with a donation made by the Horace H. and Mary A. Rackham fund of $350,000 to commemorate the work of Charles M. Elliot in the area of Special Education. Mr. Rackham, the lawyer who drew up the contract that incorporated Ford Motor Company, had died leaving a fortune of $12 million dollars from Ford stock. Following his death in 1933, his will directed that the trustees of his fortune use the money to “promote the health welfare, happiness, education, training, and development of men, women, and children, particularly the sick, aged, young, erring, poor, crippled, helpless, handicapped, unfortunate, and underprivileged regardless of race, color, religion or station…”
The new building met the criteria set by Rackham’s will since it aided the disabled. The facility contained impressive facilities for the study and practice of special education. Rackham was the first facility in the nation built specifically for teacher training in special education. The new building not only housed the Special Education Department, but also a Laboratory School where teachers learned techniques for educating students with special needs. A dormitory connected to the Laboratory School housed students during the week while they took classes. Student teachers taught classes for the deaf and hard of hearing, blind and partially-sighted, cognitively impaired, and physically handicapped. The building also contained a speech and hearing clinic.
When it was built, visitors felt that Rackham was one of the most beautiful buildings on campus. Its streamlined moderne architecture seemed to flow smoothly around curved corners. Architects selected the bricks to match McKenny Union in an effort to create a sense of visual unity on campus. Placed near what was then the outer edge of campus, the building stood in a natural setting overlooking an area known as “Sleepy Hollow,” now the location of Bowen Fieldhouse and the parking structure. To the south, Rackham overlooked the science gardens that were once planted behind Sherzer. Architects sited the building so that all the entrances to the building were made from ground level, relieving children, especially the disabled, from climbing steps to enter the building. The ground slopes downwards to the north allowing both the ground floor and the first floor to be completely open in the back with a view out over the countryside.
Inside, Franklin Tiles decorate the areas around water fountains and along walls. Designs include fish, frog, crabs, a cougar, cranes, and leaves. Some of the tile designs are listed in the Franklin design sheets as early as the 1920s. The school could accommodate more than two hundred children. A dormitory attached to the building could house 24 students as well as a housemother. The dormitory was open to children requiring special education who lived too far for the daily commute. The ground floor contained six classrooms as well as a gymnasium and auditorium. Separate recreation rooms for boys and girls, laundry room and incinerator were also located on the ground floor. The first floor housed classrooms for the deaf, physiotherapy and orthopedic therapy rooms, office space, and a clinic. The building also included a lunchroom that could house all two hundred pupils. The laboratory school closed in June 1982 because of Michigan’s mandatory special education act that delegated administrative responsibilities for special education programs to local school districts. The Special Education department, however, continued to use the building for classroom space. Today, most of the Special Education classes are housed in the Porter College of Education. Rackham was home to the Children’s Center until 2011 when it underwent renovations. It now houses the recently established physician assistant program, whose inaugural courses were held in May 2014.