Phillips Auditorium is the latest campus facility to receive an upgrade, but it’s not only Phillips’ structure that’s changing. The facility’s name will officially be changed to Plaster Auditorium once the renovation project is finished.
The Phillips project had been in planning stages for five years before the college began demolition in late June 2018, Chief Administrative Officer Rich Péwé said. The Phillips Auditorium reconstruction is the second phase of the college’s plan to revamp the Knorr Student Center.
“Think of it as a new building just in the old location,” he said. “That’s what we did with the Searle Center, too. We tore it all apart, but it was the right location. We don’t want to build something separate, away from all the activity. We want it to be useful for everybody.”
When the project is completed in early August, the name will change to the Plaster Auditorium. The Plaster Foundation has donated a fair amount of funds for the project. College President J. Donald Phillips, for whom Phillips Auditorium was named, will be commemorated with a plaque and bust in the lobby of Searle. Though there have been a few setbacks, Péwé said he believes the auditorium will be finished on time and on budget.
“The thing that slowed the process down was you have as-built drawings that go back to the late 60s,” he said. “Until you tear it all out and see what’s there, sometimes there’s surprises. We had to go back and do some additional structural figuring.”
Péwé cited an increase in campus visitors for CCAs and speaker programs and outdated equipment as reasons for the reconstruction.
“Most of those speaker programs draw a bigger crowd than Phillips can accommodate, Péwé said. “It doesn’t really benefit us to have 700 – 800-seat dining venue and an auditorium that’s too small. Plus, it’s outdated.”
The new auditorium will seat 700, with 500 seats in the main space and 200 in the balcony. It’s double the size of any other auditorium on campus; the next largest, Markle Auditorium, seats 350. Director of Programs for External Affairs Matthew Bell said the CCAs draw crowds of up to 500 guests. Once construction is completed, all CCA lectures will be given in the auditorium.
“The current format is just a temporary measure, and we thank everyone involved for their helpfulness in making CCAs a success,” Bell said in an email.
Plaster Auditorium will hold different events other than CCAs. Professor of Music James Holleman said he is excited to use Plaster for a variety of music events including jazz concerts.
“Dan Buskirk and Rockford Construction gave a generous donation to re-build the 7ft Baldwin Grand Piano that has been in Phillips Auditorium for years, as well as funds to purchase sound equipment for the auditorium. Once completely re-built, the piano will be a beautiful instrument once again,” Holleman said.