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DETROIT-As Detroit’s Orchestra Hall opened for patrons for its fall season, it’s obvious to visitors that the nearby expansion of the building will be just as magical. The Max M. Fisher Music Center will open one year from now, in October 2003.

The 134,000-sf expansion has cost $60 million. The complex was facing the wrecking ball at one time, says Jill Woodward, director of public relations for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Music lovers saved the structure with a large fund-raising campaign called “Concerto for Community and Orchestra,” that is still going on today, she explains.

Orchestra Hall itself is 80 years old. The new facilities will transform the complex into a true performing arts center, with a three-story atrium lobby and a second, smaller performance hall. As the summer progresses, masons will continue to erect the building’s exterior block and brick walls, while work on mechanical and electrical systems carries on inside.

As a prelude to the opening of the new music center, however, Orchestra Hall is undergoing renovations. “If you walked into Orchestra Hall right now, andthen came back in September, you wouldn’t believe it,” says Frank Schmidt, project superintendent for the George W. Auch Company. “We’re touching almost every square inch of the hall this summer.”

From June to September, ductwork for a modern heating and cooling system will be installed in the hall, along with other mechanical and electrical upgrades. To improve the heating and cooling system, the hall’s original 12-inch terra cotta and concrete floor was removed. Previously, a series of three grills fed air into the concert hall.

Originally built in 1919, Orchestra Hall was erected in an incredibly short time: four months and 23 days. To save time, it was constructed on the foundation of the Old Westminster Church, which was built on the site in 1878.

“No one had seen what was under the floor since it was put down in 1919,” says Schmidt. “We had the historical drawings and are very pleased to see that the foundation is in great shape. It will provide structural support for the walls of the new plenum and refinished floor.”

The Fischer Music Center’s new 500-seat, acoustically superb recital hall will be located opposite of the new lobby. So far, the DSO and volunteers have raised nearly $102 million towards its goal of $125 million.

A performing arts high school was supposed to be a $35-million project. However, the takeover of the Detroit Public Schools by the City of Detroit and foot-dragging over establishing a school board put the project on hold.

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