More details on the U's $81 million Northrop renovation


There’s some big changes in store for an iconic building on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus.

Built in 1929, Northrop Auditorium has hosted hundreds of concerts and graduations over the years. But most of the time the building sits empty.  University officials claim it’s only used about 90 days out of the year.

They warn Northrop’s aging infrastructure, everything from its electrical wiring to its air handling system, are hopelessly out of date.  You can see images from the inside of Northrop in a story I did for MPR News back in August.

Today the U’s board of regents gave the go ahead to fix up Northrop, voting unanimously to move forward with an $81 million major renovation.

The outside of Northrop will stay the same, it was restored at a cost of $13 million a few years ago.

The inside of the building however, will be dramatically transformed.

Northrop’s 4,800-seat auditorium will shrink by half. That will make room for several departments, like the honors program, to set up offices in the building. It will also create study space for students, enough to double the amount of public study space on campus.

$20 million in state funds have already been approved for the project.  The U will borrow and seek private donors for the rest, roughly $61 million.

Empty hallway

The regents approval of the project was pretty much assured, but that didn’t stop Regent John Frobenius from raising a few questions about undertaking such a project in a tough economy.

“This is a project that is in my mind challenging, particularly during these current times.”

University president Robert Bruininks told the regents now is the best time to start the project because interest rates and construction costs are low.  And Bruininks said the Northrop project isn’t just a run of the mill renovation, it’s going to remake Northrop into something students will actually use.

“It wouldn’t be worth doing if we didn’t have an exciting vision, I think a transformative vision, to make it a center of academic life in the future.”

So what’s next for Northrop?  Work gets underway immediately.  Next week staff in the building will move out so construction can get underway.  The project will take about two and a half years, it should be complete in the fall of 2013.

The first graduation in the renovated Northrop will be December of 2013.  Until then U of M grads will walk across a stage at Mariucci Hockey Arena to get their diplomas.