The iconic Northrop Auditorium is filled with history, architectural drama and University of Minnesota pride – and is used for little more than graduation ceremonies and concerts.
But an $80.8 million renovation beginning today will bring more people into Northrop, and for the duration of the construction, move graduation out.
The renovation will add study space and move three University programs into the building: the honors program, Innovation by Design, and the Institute for Advanced Study. The auditorium, which currently houses 4,800 seats, will be cut down to 2,800.
Northrop, built in 1929, has hosted a share of worldly guests including Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin – even Russian ballet dancers. But few students besides the jugglers who take advantage of the two-story ceilings know its doors are open on a daily basis.
“I haven’t spent a lot of time in Northrop,” sociology and psychology senior Jaime Lilleodden said. “I never had a desire to go in it. It was always more of just an awesome building that I walked by on campus.”
Even if students spent time in Northrop, they wouldn’t find much to enjoy besides the architecture.
Peeling paint and dilapidated bathrooms create a sad shell for an even sadder set of plumbing, electricity and sound systems, all dating back to the 1920s. And if one of these systems were to fail, Northrop would have to be boarded up for repairs, if not for good.
The University decided to update the space and make it a place where students would spend more time.
The renovations were approved by the Board of Regents on Thursday. They will increase study space by about 50 percent on the Twin Cities campus, Steven Rosenstone, vice president of scholarly and cultural affairs, said.
“The secret sauce is, by making the auditorium smaller we not only produce a very high quality space, but we also free up a lot of space in the rest of the building for students and the academic programs,” Rosenstone said. Renovations will also add a large atrium and coffee shop.
Despite changes, efforts are also being made to preserve the historical integrity of the building, all the way down to the exit signs.
“Everything will be completely restored in the entrance,” Rosenstone said. “The marble will be cleaned, the chandeliers will be cleaned, and the entrance will look like it did when it opened.”
Large decorative urns in the auditorium will be saved and used elsewhere in the building, along with many of the light fixtures.
“Everything will be photographed before it’s changed and everything that needs to be saved for historical reasons will be saved,” Rosenstone said.
Construction will begin soon after the building’s current residents move out and last until the summer of 2013.
For the next two rounds of spring graduates, this means receiving their diplomas in Marriucci Arena instead of collegiate, pillared Northrop.
“Students will not be sitting on ice,” Rosenstone said of the arena. “I’ve been to big events there before, and I’ve seen it work.”
But many students feel the atmosphere in a hockey rink won’t measure up to the iconic auditorium.
“I would rather walk at Northrop just because it’s more special,” Jessica Hornby, a senior in family and social science, said. “Especially for families who haven’t visited the campus before and are seeing it for the first time.”
According to Rosenstone, students graduating this spring have asked to postpone construction until after their graduation, but doing so would add $2 million to $3 million to the cost of construction.
After the approval of the building, Regent John Frobenius said, “We have some really difficult budget decisions to make, and this isn’t my highest priority. The real question is, as the whole budget comes together, where’s the give? What aren’t we going to do?”
According to Rosenstone, the only time to do it is now.
“Putting something off and never being able to do it right – those are worse options,” Rosenstone said. “If we do nothing and wait, we will have price increases and lose our private money.”
With the start of construction, navigating campus near Northrop won’t be the same.
“There will be announcements on this over the next couple of weeks,” Rosenstone said. “Eventually the Gopher Way that cuts through Northrop will be temporarily cut, but there will be plenty of e-mail notification and signs.”
University President Bob Bruininks said the renovations to Northrop are a “historic decision.”
“We’re at this moment with a plan that I think is solid and really makes sense,” he said. “It is inspiring and truly transformative.”