The University Record, July 9, 2001

Hill Auditorium to undergo $33.5 million renovation

By Nelvia Van’t Hul
News and Information Services

Hill Auditorium, circa 1918. (Photo courtesy Bentley Historical Library)
Plans are under way to renovate Hill Auditorium after Regents approved the $33.5 million project at their June meeting.

The 88-year-old Albert Khan-designed structure is slated to undergo improvements that will preserve its architectural history, enhance the experience of performers and audiences, and replace or update aging infrastructure. The renovations, expected to take 18 months, will begin May 13, 2002, said Robert Kasdin, executive vice president and chief financial officer.

The bulk of the work involves less apparent improvements, such as removing asbestos and lead paint, upgrading heating/ventilation systems and mechanical/electrical infrastructure, installing air conditioning, and addressing code issues, Kasdin said. More visible alterations will include installing elevators, adding restrooms, constructing ramps for barrier-free access, and restoring historically significant areas and components.

Named for former Regent Arthur Hill, who bequeathed $200,000 to the University “for the erection of an auditorium for the gathering of the students and college body, and their friends, on large occasions such as graduating exercises and musical festivals,” Hill Auditorium cost $282,000. Since its dedication in 1913, it has undergone few significant renovations.

This first phase of the renovation and preservation of Hill Auditorium is being partially funded with $2.8 million in donor contributions to the capital campaign that ended in September 1997. Prior to beginning phase two renovations, which will include lower-level reception space, backstage improvements and new upper-level seating, the University will seek additional funding from outside sources.

“Hill Auditorium is a critical piece of the fabric of this community and an important historical building,” Kasdin says. “We are obliged and privileged to make a major commitment to Hill.

“In this first phase,” Kasdin continues, “we seek to address maintenance issues that have been deferred for generations and to significantly enhance the audience’s experience. As funds become available over time, the master plan for Hill will be completed, with more appropriate backstage facilities for performers and the completion of those remaining needs that cannot be addressed at this time.”

When it opened in 1913, Hill Auditorium was hailed as a “monument to perfect acoustics,” the result of collaboration between Kahn and noted acoustical engineer Hugh Tallant. Hill Auditorium’s acoustics are known worldwide and have made the auditorium a favorite performance venue for legions of famous musicians and other artists.

Careful attention will be given throughout the renovation to maintaining the quality of the auditorium’s acoustics, says Henry Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations. In addition, further work will be done to reduce street and lobby noise by building a “sound lock” between the lobby and the auditorium.

Repairs and renovations are being designed and supervised by Albert Kahn Associates and Quinn Evans/Architects.

“The main thrust of the new project is stewardship,” Baier notes. “We must ensure the integrity of the building, its safety and its barrier-free access.”

Although the temporary loss of performance space in Hill presents challenges to the School of Music, the University Musical Society (UMS) and other groups that regularly use the auditorium, Karen Wolff, dean of the School of Music, is optimistic. “Faculty and students of the School of Music are delighted that plans for Hill Auditorium are going forward,” Wolff says. “We anticipate with great eagerness the improved comfort of our audiences and are pleased that this historic building will remain viable as a major music venue well into the future.”

UMS Director Kenneth C. Fischer is confident that the quality of programming in the 2002–03 season will not be altered by the closing of Hill.

“We’ve been using 12 different sites in recent years, including Eastern Michigan University’s Convocation Hall and the Detroit Opera House,” Fischer says. “Although UMS may have to consider doing fewer events during Hill’s closing, we are working together with the School of Music and the Major Events Office to assure that traditional annual programming will be maintained.”

For more information on the renovations, visit the Web at www.umich.edu/~urel/hill. The site contains a link where visitors can contribute their memories of Hill Auditorium.