Hill Auditorium has seen countless world-renowned performers and personalities since its dedication in 1913, but it has never seen anything close to the extensive renovations it is about to undergo.

Paul Wong
Interior and exterior renovations will close Hill Auditorium for 18 months, beginning in May 2002.<br><br>DAVID KATZ/ Daily

The University Board of Regents approved a $33.5 million renovation project to modify the 88-year-old structure at their June meeting last Friday. Private sources of funding account for $2.8 of the $33.5 million, and the remainder comes from University funds.

The project is expected to take 18 months to complete. It will focus on the building”s infrastructure and provide extra conveniences for the audience and performers, said University Chief Financial Officer Robert Kasdin.

“We will be dramatically increasing the number of bathrooms, adding sound-locks to prevent street noise from coming into the building, making the auditorium handicapped accessible, making it possible to walk from the reception area to the backstage area by adding a discreet addition on the west side of the building and restoring the badly damaged plaza area in front of the building,” Kasdin said.

The auditorium”s seats will be replaced during the renovations and air conditioning, elevators and a sprinkler system will be added. The number of seats will be reduced from 4,200 to 3,650 to accommodate handicapped seating and other improvements. Renovations are scheduled to begin May 13, 2002.

“Much of the plumbing, electrical wiring and other aspects of the infrastructure date from early in the 20th century,” Kasdin said. “Addressing these issues is timely, if not overdue.”

Kasdin added the University hopes to raise between $3 and $5 million for additional renovations, including the creation of an audience reception area underneath the plaza, backstage renovations and new upper-level seating.

Henry Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations, said one of the concerns of the renovations is to control the level of noise in the auditorium.

“We”re striving to very carefully control air flow and air conditioning so that noise from the mechanical systems will not impact performances,” Baier said.

No performances will be held at Hill Auditorium during the renovations, which poses a problem for organizations that frequently use the building for events.

Karen Wolff, dean of the University”s School of Music, said it will be necessary to find alternate venues to host performances, but she does not expect the number of performances sponsored by the school to decrease.

“It will be a major inconvenience for us, but we think it”s going to be well worth it to have this beautiful hall maintained as an important performance site well in to the future,” she said.

The University Musical Society, which holds about 20 events at Hill each year, is facing the same probelm.

Fischer said that while the renovation might cause UMS to pare down its schedule a little, the restoration provides an opportunity to explore new ideas.

“It”s all about how you look at it,” he said. “It can be “oh my God, what are we going to do? Or it can be “oh my God, look what we can do!””

With alternate venues in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit, Fischer said providing transportation to the different locations is a possibility and may include other perks such as pre-concert speakers. Crisler Arena, which is unfamiliar territory for UMS, is also being considered.

Albert Kahn Associates and Quinn Evans/Architects are working on the project. Albert Kahn himself helped design the structure, and Quinn Evans is known for its work in historical preservation.

“It”s a very strong team and a very appropriate team,” Baier said.

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