New Kenan Gift to Launch Renovation of Hill Hall

A $5 million gift from the William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust will launch an extensive renovation of the music department’s Hill Hall.

Work will center on improvements to Hill Hall’s rotunda and 550-seat auditorium in the century-old building that originally served as the University’s first library. The total cost of the project is estimated at $15 million, none of it in state-appropriated funding. In addition to the Kenan Trust’s gift, the office of the provost will provide $5 million, and the College of Arts and Sciences will raise the remaining $5 million in a special campaign.

After a planning phase, work is expected to begin in 2015 and will take two years to complete.

“This project will be a tremendous boon for our department of music, the College, the University and the community,” said Chancellor Holden Thorp ’86. “Great arts programs need state-of-the-art facilities. This gift is just the latest from the Kenan Trust to fulfill that requirement for Carolina. We’re profoundly grateful.

“This gift gives us tremendous momentum. Thanks to the Kenan Trust, I’m confident that other donors will join us in reaching our goal for the project.”

Karen M. Gil, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said, “Once again, the generosity of the Kenan Trust will transform our music facilities to benefit faculty, students and arts audiences for generations to come.”

In 2007, the Kenan Trust gave $8 million to the music department, including $4 million to establish 16 full music scholarships for undergraduates and $4 million to complete funding for a new music building in the College of Arts and Sciences. The Kenan Music Building was dedicated in 2009. Twenty-four Kenan Music Scholarships have been awarded since the first class entered in fall 2007, elevating the department’s reputation by drawing exceptional students who are as interested in a broad liberal arts education as they are in a conservatory experience.

“The Kenan Trust is very proud of its long association with the extraordinary department of music at the University of North Carolina,” said Richard Krasno, executive director of the Kenan Trust. “This gift affirms a commitment to assist in providing facilities that are commensurate with the talent of the students and the dedication of the faculty. We are also confident that the renovation of Hill Hall will provide great benefit to the University community at large.”

Nearly 120 public concerts, faculty and student recitals and lectures — many from departments other than music — drew crowds to Hill Hall in the past year. The facility complements performances in Memorial Hall, which was fully renovated in 2005.

Major upgrades will transform the now drab and dated lobby rotunda to an expanded and light-filled space suitable for receptions and intermissions. The auditorium lacks air conditioning, making it essentially unusable in the summer. That will change, with plans for a climate control system, state-of-the-art acoustical treatments, a professional-grade stage, and a piano and equipment lift.

“Hill Hall will become a true focal point for music on campus. The new auditorium will properly showcase the talents of our faculty and students and will be a more welcoming space for visiting artists,” said Mark Katz, chair of the music department. “It’s a decades-long dream come true for faculty, students and the larger Carolina community. We are so grateful to the trust for this gift.”

An enhanced backstage area with updated green rooms and storage, improved lighting, piano preservation facilities, additional practice rooms, and improved administrative and teaching spaces adjacent to the rotunda will complete the renovations.

The cornerstone for the original building was laid on June 1, 1907, in a Masonic ceremony. Funded by Andrew Carnegie, the building served as the University’s first consolidated library. In 1918-19, it served as headquarters for Carolina Playmakers when Thomas Wolfe ’20 was a member. The music department moved to the building in 1930 and was renamed Hill Hall for alumnus and trustee John Sprunt Hill (class of 1889) and his family, who funded renovations that included a new auditorium and organ. The Hill Hall annex, built in 1963, is not included in the renovations.

The William R. Kenan Jr. Charitable Trust was created in 1965 from the estate of alumnus William R. Kenan Jr. (class of 1894). The trust and related Kenan entities and family members were the single largest donor to UNC’s last major fundraising drive, the Carolina First Campaign, committing nearly $70 million.

The Kenan family’s ties to the University date to 1790 when James Kenan, a member of the University’s first Board of Trustees, contributed $50 to the construction of Old East, the first state university building in the nation. A member of the N.C. General Assembly, James Kenan helped draft and pass the University’s charter.

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