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Foundation makes $1.5 million donation to Darke Hall Renovation project

Regina Leader-Post with Vianne Timmons 27 August 2019

 

Inside a rejuvenated lecture hall, Regina Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Christian Robinson picked up his violin and played Johann Sebastian Bach’s Bouret. The performance was the finishing touch on Monday’s announcement that the Ann and Roger Phillips Foundation will be donating $1.5 million towards the renovation of Darke Hall, which is part of the University of Regina’s College Avenue Campus Renewal Project.

“From a musician’s perspective, it’s a really special sound in here with all of the wood and the hard surfaces. The sound has a wonderful warmth to it,” said Robinson following his performance.

The lecture hall where Monday’s announcement was made had previously been sealed off. When it was originally constructed, the room’s seating was built on the southern-facing wall. That design choice was later deemed unsafe, making the room unusable.

The renovations reversed the room’s orientation. Seating was put on the other side of the room, allowing windows on the south wall to provide a view of Wascana Park. The room’s original skylight was not able to be truly opened up, so electrical engineers used LED panels and heritage glass to simulate the feel of daylight as it once flowed through the ceiling.

So how does it feel to hear music played there?

“It was absolutely beautiful,” said Kate Jackson, an intern architect with P3A Architecture Partnership, who worked on designing the renovations.

“It definitely seems to perform like an instrument itself, so it’s interesting to hear how it amplifies and contains the sound.”

Ann Phillips has been a longtime supporter of the arts in Saskatchewan. Phillips moved to Regina in 1982 when her husband Roger became president and CEO of IPSCO (now Evraz Regina). Roger passed away in 2013, and the foundation was named in his honour.

Being passionate about music and history, Phillips called Darke Hall a special building that shouldn’t go to waste.

“I’m feeling really good about the prospect of getting Darke Hall restored, about getting more people involved and interested in the campaign, because I think it’s an excellent place for the community, and if it were not being fixed up then it would just sadly go unused, and I think that would be terrible,” said Phillips.

In addition, the Phillips foundation will match any future donations earmarked for Darke Hall up to an additional $500,000. So far, the amount raised directly for Darke Hall is $51,300.

Originally built in 1929, Darke Hall was known as the province’s premier musical performance venue. University of Regina President Vianne Timmons described it as a “temple to the arts,” and the renovation project is meant to restore Darke Hall to its former glory.

Darke Hall is scheduled to re-open in 2021 as a 500-seat hub for performances in theatre, music, and dance. It has already received repairs to its roof and upgrades to the exterior. According to the U of R, the Phillips donation will allow restoration work to continue on the interior.

So far, $11.64 million overall has been raised for the College Avenue Campus Renewal Project, just shy of the fundraising goal of the $12.5 million needed to complete it.

The foundation’s promise to match future donations for Darke Hall is meant to encourage more donors, and Timmons said she hoped Regina residents will see the value in doing so. For her, the restoration is about honouring the past, as well as establishing a performance venue for future generations.

“Think about the people that built it, and think about the sacrifices they made to have it in this community and let’s honour that,” said Timmons. “We’ll be able to attract unique artists here because of the venue, and so it will really be an asset for our community.”

Vianne Timmons is the President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Regina.