Campus Renewal

UND construction, planning and restoration updates.

Chester Fritz Auditorium

Project scope: Lobby renovation

Current stage: Painting upper floors

Total estimated cost: $700,000

Estimated completion date: Aug. 1, 2024

Chandelier in Chester Fritz Auditorium lobby
This custom Dalambert chandelier – known today as the Starcher Chandelier – was gifted in 1971 by UND faculty, staff and friends of the Robert D. Campbell Foundation to honor UND President Emeritus George Starcher. It will remain the lobby’s centerpiece through renovations at the Chester Fritz Auditorium. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Since the construction of the Chester Fritz Auditorium in the early 1970s, the building has hosted hundreds of events for the Greater Grand Forks community’s enjoyment, and seen thousands of UND students cross its stage to receive their diplomas.

In December 1993, it was Betty Allan’s turn to cross that stage. She remembers the day well, but not for a reason one might expect.

“I graduated in this building, and it looked exactly like it does today,” she said.

And as director of the auditorium for the past 17 years, Allan would know better than most. This year, she is overseeing one of the building’s biggest changes since before her graduation.

Work has been underway since February on a full lobby renovation for the building. The entryway that greets the building’s thousands of annual visitors (graduates and showgoers alike) will soon represent a new era for UND’s most public-facing building.

“This project is a refresh, basically,” Allan said. “Carpet, paint, light fixtures, ceiling tiles – if it’s in the lobby, it’s likely getting some sort of touch.”

It’s literally a tall order, considering the five floors that vault to the highest sections of the auditorium. The Chester Fritz Auditorium has an audience capacity of 2,400 across three seating levels.

Allan remarked that since the upper floors aren’t used for every event hosted throughout the year, work will move top-to-bottom. Painting is now in progress on the fourth floor.

By the summer months, as activity on campus slows down between spring and fall semesters, the most-traversed areas will be ready for renovation.

UND Facilities Management estimates work to be completed by Aug. 1, 2024.

Freshly painted walls
This shot of the upper floors shows the early work in progress for the Chester Fritz Auditorium, including freshly painted walls and new column accents. Carpeting will be replaced later this year. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

Cosmetically, the space will be changed dramatically, but the structure and function of the auditorium’s entry and gathering areas will remain, as will the existing, original woodwork.

The lobby’s centerpiece, known as the Starcher Chandelier, will also keep its place in the building. The custom Dalambert chandelier was gifted in 1971 by UND faculty, staff and friends of the Robert D. Campbell Foundation to honor UND President Emeritus George Starcher, according to the CFA website.

Les Bjore, director of Planning & Real Estate for UND Facilities Management, said a goal for the project was to respect the original design philosophy employed by the architects, Wells & Denbrook, and enhance the lobby space’s dramatic volume.

“The lobby has dimensions that lack expression because of an earlier update that painted all of the walls and design components the same color,” Bjore said. “When researching the original drawings and photos of when the building first opened, you immediately realize that the vertical columns were painted a different color than the walls, expressing that verticality.

“Using that as inspiration, we created a bold column and beam color that restores that design.”

Another area of intrigue was the pre-function space on the second floor. Designed as an area to gather and mingle before or after a show, it’s accessed by crossing bridges to a deck on the east side of the building, looming over the main entries.

“The design really indicates that this space is different from the rest, so we wanted to treat the finishes in this area with different but complimentary colors acknowledging the original concept,” Bjore said. “The ceiling will have a simulated wood that matches the original woodwork, and differing, dramatic light fixtures will further support the design.”

The new carpeting will be darker than the current red and floral pattern, with copper highlights. One goal for updating the look was to present something high-end but contemporary, according to Bjore, and the tones throughout the design fall in line with other recent UND renovations.

Or, as Allan put it, “Now, when we want to decorate with green for a UND event, it won’t look like Christmas anymore.”

Chester Fritz Auditorium lobby
While renovating the lobby, UND’s project leads intend to respect the original design by accentuating the dramatic vertical space that greets visitors. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.

One of the lobby’s more noticeable features along its walls will be changing with the renovation. For decades, photos of past performers have decked the halls. Legends local and global have left their mark on the “Fritz.”

Though there hasn’t been a decision on what will line the walls come fall, both Allan and Bjore indicated that the photos of past performers will be retained in some way for visitors to admire. Ideas right now include a digital repository that can be accessed via QR code, or to have those photos digitally displayed and rotated on a select number of monitors.

Discussions are currently underway with UND Art Collections for possible displays in the building, as well.

Allan hinted that a new look for the Chester Fritz Auditorium logo is also on the way – something that will tie closer with the University’s current branding and the auditorium’s new look.

She’s looking forward to seeing reactions from the UND and Grand Forks communities, once the lobby is finished in the fall.

“It will be more of a classic look with new paints, wallpapers, textures and UND art – things that will give a more upscale feel,” she said. “It’s a very public building, and a lot of people that come here don’t have a lot of other interactions with campus, so this is a great way to show how campus is changing overall.”

Photos of past performers in Chester Fritz Auditorium
Hundreds of photos of past performers line the halls of Chester Fritz Auditorium’s lobby. Though they’ll soon be removed to make way for fresh paint and a new aesthetic, plans are being made to keep them available for digital viewing. Photo by Adam Kurtz/UND Today.