U examines fixing up two campus building mainstays

Nina Petersen-Perlman

Two University icons of history and architecture are getting a lot of attention lately, and the feedback is more critical than admiring.

The University has received $20.75 million of state money to fix Northrop Auditorium’s shell, and will be seeking more in coming years for a Folwell Hall face-lift.

But it’s the auditorium’s interior that has officials stumped. The 4,800-seat auditorium, built in 1928 and meant to be a gathering point for students, is facing a Goldilocks dilemma.

It’s too big for shows that typically choose the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts or Guthrie Theater, too small for the bigger acts that prefer the Target Center or Xcel Energy Center, and just right for few.

The problem will be taken on by a task force led by College of Liberal Arts Dean Steven Rosenstone and Vice President for University Services Kathleen O’Brien, and has until this fall to give University President Bob Bruininks some suggestions on what personality Northrop Auditorium should assume.

The request, which will be funded with Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement dollars, then would go before the 2008 state Legislature.

Rosenstone said it isn’t likely that the auditorium would become a classroom building.

“The hope is that Northrop will remain a center for ideas, for creative work,” Rosenstone said. “It’s where we hold graduation, where we hold convocation. Where does the president of the United States go when he comes to talk? That doesn’t happen in classroom buildings.”

The exterior work beginning this summer isn’t expected to affect the day-to-day goings-on of the building, said Michael Perkins, associate vice president of capital planning and project management.

Until the interior work of the building is funded and begins, the next few classes still will be able to graduate in Northrop Auditorium, although it will be shrouded in scaffolding reminiscent of the Washington Monument during its construction project, Perkins said.

Future classes, however, won’t be so fortunate. Mike Denny, who works in capital planning and project management, said Mariucci Arena already has been designated to accommodate graduation ceremonies.

Even though Rosenstone promised the ice will be covered so students don’t slip, English sophomore Brett Hogenson said he wouldn’t want to graduate somewhere other than the auditorium.

“It’s a beautiful area; I like the whole place,” Hogenson said. “It holds the mall together.”

One of the major obstacles to funding renovations like the auditorium’s is the competing request before the legislature for hundreds of millions of dollars to fund the proposed campus stadium.

Ironically, the University faced the same prioritization quandary in 1924 when it was deciding whether the auditorium or Memorial Stadium should be ranked higher, Denny said.

“The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he said.

When it comes to Folwell Hall – funded by the 2007 legislative bonding request – the greatest difficulty will be balancing the preservation of historical elements with financial feasibility, Perkins said.

Some of the building materials are too expensive to repair or replace and some simply aren’t available anymore, Denny said.

“The administration’s highly sensitive to preservation,” he said. “But the regents are always challenging us on the cost benefits, as they should. There’s that balance we have to always find, which is: What is reasonable?

“We’re stewards and fiduciaries at the same time.”