North Central College - Naperville, IL

Plans for new Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center announced

When you run marathons, there’s a point — in my case, usually around mile 23 — when you realize you’re really going to finish, and you start to smile. But you don’t relax. And you don’t smile too long, because if you lose your focus, three miles is still a long, long way.

It’s only a coincidence that the “all-in” cost of North Central’s new Concert Hall and Fine Arts Center is estimated to be $26.5 million — i.e., $1 million per mile if the fundraising for this magnificent facility were a marathon … which, of course, it is! No challenge outlined by the Board of Trustees when I was selected as North Central’s ninth president 15 years ago has taken more time than this one to carry through. And we aren’t even at the 23rd mile. Indeed, we’re far from it.

Still, when the Kresge Foundation gave us a $1 million Challenge Grant commitment in December, I did smile a little. We’ve come a long way. In 1990, the College had 27 music, theatre and art majors; one choral music ensemble; three student plays a year; and seven full-time faculty members in these fields (along with 10 adjunct professors). In 2005, as we noted in the Kresge proposal, North Central had “109 music, music education, music theatre, theatre and art majors; 17 choral, jazz and instrumental ensembles; 12 student plays a year; and 12 full-time or half-time faculty in these fields (and 32 adjunct professors). Not surprisingly, since the mid-1990s, North Central’s instrumental and choral groups have done much of their rehearsing (and some performing) in rented off-campus space, such as nearby churches.”

Thanks to the visionary philanthropy of Dr. Myron Wentz ’63 (for whom the Concert Hall will be named), with generous commitments from others such as Trustee Judy Stevenson, we are well beyond the halfway point in fundraising for this project, which will have a transforming effect not only on the College, but on Naperville. Again to quote the Kresge proposal:

“The resulting structure should do for the College and community in the 21st century what Pfeiffer Hall did in the 20th. Most of the money will go into the 605-seat Concert Hall. Designed and shaped to have an intimate feel, but to provide the clarity, warmth and liveliness of sound characteristics that are essential to enjoy music of all kinds, the 13,000-square-foot Concert Hall will have 84,000 cubic feet (2,200 square feet) of additional volume just to meet its demanding acoustical standards. Its size, shape and materials have all been chosen to maximize the Hall’s sound capabilities. Positioned diagonally on a hill overlooking Naperville’s downtown, the Concert Hall will become an instant icon for the city, the place for the award-winning bands, orchestras and choirs of area high schools to show off; the College’s multitude of music groups — and soloists — to perform; and an intimate venue in Illinois’ fourth-largest city that can handle everything from the Chicago Symphony to recitals by soloists from Chicago’s Lyric Opera. In its architectural characteristics — i.e., a small hall able to accommodate a large sound — the Hall will be unique. With a 1,600-square-foot lobby, kitchen facility, and adjacent 1,400-square-foot art gallery, there will also be substantial event space for major civic gatherings. The facility will house a 2,500-square-foot ‘black box’ theatre — with seating for up to 150 and a separate entrance — that could be utilized at the same time as the Concert Hall. Add in a 2,100-square-foot music rehearsal space, and 7,500 square feet of practice rooms and offices, and you have a 57,000-square-foot facility that in conjunction with nearby cultural facilities such as Pfeiffer Hall, should meet college and community performance needs for generations to come.”

So exactly where are we in our fine arts marathon? About mile 16. We need to raise $7 million in new commitments to meet the Kresge Challenge, and we have about 16 months to do that; altogether we need to raise $10 million (almost twice the cost of renovating Old Main) to fund this $26.5 million project. Can we do it? Yes. Will we do it?

Of course … with your help … if we don’t relax and don’t lose focus … and don’t confuse the groundbreaking (which I hope will be this spring!) with the finish line. There’s still a long, long way to go. But for everyone who cares passionately about the fine arts at North Central — and the revitalization of a glorious fine arts tradition — a little smile wouldn’t be out of order.

Harold R. Wilde

North Central Now, March 2006