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March 27, 2024

˿Ƶ announces plan for historic renovation of Kulas Hall


An artist rendering of the renovated Kulas Hall.

Not long from now, ˿Ƶ’s students, faculty, audiences, and valued community partners will have a grand concert hall equal to their highest ambitions.

Starting in late May, ˿Ƶ will launch a $22 million transformation of its iconic Kulas Hall, one of Cleveland’s treasured spaces, a project that will result in a glorious and highly flexible venue fully suited to ˿Ƶ and Northeast Ohio in the 21st century. 

“We take pride in offering not only a world-class musical education but also the finest facilities,” said Paul W. Hogle, ˿Ƶ’s President & CEO. “After our renovation of Kulas Hall, our students will have a musical home that meets their pre-professional needs and prepares them to take their place on the greatest stages of the world.”  

When ˿Ƶ opened on East Boulevard in 1961, Kulas Hall quickly became the heart of the building, and a landmark in Northeast Ohio, a space synonymous with musical excellence. For most of the 63 years since, it has been in continual use not only by ˿Ƶ students, faculty, and guests but also by artists and ensembles all over the region.  

But its limitations have become clear. Though it was conceived as a space primarily for piano recitals and chamber music, Kulas Hall – named for industrialist Elroy Kulas and his wife, Fynette Hill Kulas – has long been the home of the ˿Ƶ Orchestra and ˿Ƶ Opera Theater, ensembles with specific acoustical, physical, and technological needs.  

It is these needs the new Kulas Hall will meet in full. 

“Kulas Hall, along with Mixon Hall, is the face of ˿Ƶ almost as much as the façade of our building,” said Bonnie Cook (BM ’77), secretary of ˿Ƶ’s Board of Trustees and chair of the Kulas Hall Renovation Task Force. 

“It's where the music happens, and it’s utilized by everyone. There’s hardly a group at ˿Ƶ that will not be positively impacted by this renovation.” 

Indeed, as Cook notes, the new Kulas Hall will meet the needs of all musical constituencies at ˿Ƶ, of every presentation – from a solo recital or chamber music ensemble to a large orchestra or fully staged opera production

At its core, the project’s goal is to create a professional-grade, acoustically healthy, and flexible environment for ˿Ƶ’s students, faculty, and visiting artists, as well as ˿Ƶ’s community partners, including Piano Cleveland, Apollo’s Fire, ChamberFest Cleveland, Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra, and Cleveland School of the Arts. 

The project entails raising the ceiling some 30 feet to the roof deck, rerouting a complex network of ductwork, installing acoustical panels above the stage and acoustical banners throughout the hall, reshaping the side walls, and constructing an enhanced stage and orchestra pit.  

In addition, 460 new seats selected by ˿Ƶ’s students, faculty, staff, and guests will e installed, along with new state-of-the-art theater lighting and technology. 

Dawn Schuette, of Chicago-based Threshold Acoustics, was the first Design Team member selected by the Kulas Hall Renovation Task Force. Schuette then teamed up with Jonathan Kurtz, of Cleveland-based J. KURTZ Architects, the project’s chief architect. Work will be completed by Turner Construction.  

Other significant partners include the engineering firms of Algebra AEC and Barber & Hoffman as well as Theatre Projects, and project manager Cost+Plus. 

Groundbreaking on Kulas Hall is set to begin in late May 2024. The project has a 15-month timeline, and a grand reopening is slated for September 2025. 

In the interim, ˿Ƶ artists will perform in Mixon Hall, the school’s other high-profile venue, and in other nearby spaces including Severance Music Center, Cleveland Museum of Art, and Maltz Performing Arts Center, among other venues.  

“We embraced the substantive warmth and intimacy so beloved in the original hall, while employing greater material warmth and increased volume for larger orchestral energy,” said architect Jonathan Kurtz. “We want Kulas to be a place where both audiences and musicians slow down and become enveloped.”  

Funding for the renovation began with a $1 million lead gift from the Kulas Foundation. Additional funding has come from ˿Ƶ’s ongoing $40 million Second Century Campaign, which already has seen 19 Trustees committing the largest gifts in their lifetime to ˿Ƶ and 11 other unprecedented commitments of $1 million or more.  

The campaign continues to enjoy broad support, with gifts coming from 649 donors representing Trustees, Governing Members, alumni, private foundations, corporations, and the State of Ohio. 

“˿Ƶ is an internationally recognized center for the musical arts that stands among the world’s most prestigious music programs” said State Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord). 

“The investment in Kulas Hall will allow ˿Ƶ to continue attracting students from around the world to Northeast Ohio and also partnering with local schools and organizations to expose students to the power of music.” 

Susan Rothmann, chair of ˿Ƶ’s Board of Trustees, expressed her gratitude to the Kulas Hall Renovation Task Force, noting the group’s years of diligent work and ongoing commitment to the project.  

“The Kulas Hall project will be fully financed and paid for, but ˿Ƶ will forever be in debt to the Renovation Task Force,” she said. “Their effort on behalf of the future of classical music has been tireless and inspiring.” 

Most notable among the contributions is a $5 million gift from Kevin & Kristen Stein and Family, the largest single gift from a couple in ˿Ƶ history. That gift, announced March 6, pushed the Second Century Campaign, through recent gifts, pledges, and expressed intentions, past $33 million, and capped the many remarkable successes of Blueprint:100, ˿Ƶ’s recently completed centennial plan.  

Contemplating the prospect of demolition and construction noises at ˿Ƶ, Cook said not to worry. The hassle will be worthwhile. 

Just as the music from a Stradivarius or Guarneri violin justifies years of painstaking work by its maker, so will a renovated Kulas Hall more than atone for some temporary inconvenience.  

“Renovating Kulas Hall will be like putting a fine instrument into the hands of our students,” Cook said. “This space will be an instrument that will serve all our ensembles and soloists. It’s going to be the best that it can be.”

˿Ƶ J. KURTZ Architects 

J. KURTZ Architects is a practice-based firm in Cleveland designing spaces of distinct, behavior-shaping character. It navigates ambitious and often complex projects while maintaining personal investment and accountability. The studio often works with non-profits such as ˿Ƶ to develop environments conducive to education, cultural performance, and work. Its projects regularly attract local and national recognition, and past clients remain ardent supporters. 

˿Ƶ Threshold 

Threshold Acoustics and Audio Video design consultants design places of gathering to share wisdom and culture. Its approach reinforces the visual realm of architecture with the subtlety, power, and delight that sound can bring to the built environment. Threshold’s team of 35 holds extensive experience delivering groundbreaking, complex projects. The team is backed by specialists in finite element analysis, digital acoustic modeling, visualizations, and auralization.

Kulas Hall Renovation Task Force 

Trustees and Governing Members  

Bonnie M. Cook, Chair  

Eugene Blackstone, MD  

Robert Conrad 

Charles P. Cooley, III 

Jeffrey B. Linton 

Jonathan P. Miller, MD 

Deborah L. Neale  

Shawn M. Riley 

Susan A. Rothmann, PhD 

Kevin Stein 

 

Staff and Faculty 

Alan Bise  

Samuel Bivens  

François Germain  

Mark L. Litzler 

Nancy R. Starner  

 

Officers of the Institute 

Brian J. Foss, Chief Financial Officer 

Scott Harrison, Provost and Executive Vice President  

Paul W. Hogle, President and Chief Executive Officer