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New Home For Grand Center Arts Academy


School to open its doors Aug. 22 in former Carter Carburetor building



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Grand Center Arts Academy will occupy this building, which was originally built as the Beaux Arts Building and Pythius Hall in 1925, across from Powell Hall.
Photo by Eva Connors (click for larger version)
July 13, 2011
The lockers are installed, the desks are placed, and bongos and music stands are piled high outside the library. Grand Center Arts Academy's new location on Grand Boulevard is almost complete; all that's missing is the students.

Temporarily located at Third Baptist Church at Grand and Washington, GCAA will open its new doors for the first day of school on Aug. 22 in what was originally built as the Beaux Arts Building and Pythius Hall in 1925, directly across from Powell Hall. The building once served as the headquarters for Carter Carburetor.

"Being in Grand Center is huge," Principal Lynne Glickert said. "The partnership is very tight between us and the Grand community."

That includes everything from trips to local theaters to master classes with visiting artists. In the past year, GCAA students have worked with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Craft Alliance, Contemporary Art Museum, Jazz St. Louis, Circus Flora, Fox Theatre and more. 

"We'd get a call from Powell Hall, and they'd say, 'We've undersold this concert. Bring your whole school,'" Glickert said.

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This sixth floor dance studio has high ceilings, iron railings and plenty of natural light.
Photo by Eva Connors (click for larger version)
Sponsored by Saint Louis University, GCAA opened in 2010 with grades six and seven and will add a grade each subsequent year through grade 12 in 2015. Enrollment will be capped at 750 students. More than 300 students will attend GCAA in the new building for the coming year.

According to Steve Smith, head of architectural and development firm the Lawrence Group, which is developing the property, the building originally served as one of the first valet parking garages in the area but sat vacant for the past two to three decades.

"I would take interested students on tours before the construction had taken off, and there were pigeon droppings everywhere," Glickert said.

Few traces of the deterioration remain. Natural light pours in from windows and high ceilings give each room an open, airy feeling. Art studios are positioned to take best advantage of northern light. State-of-the-art science classrooms overlook Grand Boulevard below. Concrete columns from the parking garage are painted in bright stripes of red, navy and green. 

"Parking garages are well built, of course, so renovation is actually much easier," Smith said.

Smith made sure, however, to preserve the original charm and history of the building. The original entrance boasts an elegant revolving door. Marble stretches from floor to ceiling. The valet office is now the administrative office. GCAA's pride and glory, however, is the sixth floor dance studio with high ceilings, iron railings and original arches.

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The new Grand Center Arts Academy space is outfitted with state-of-the-art science classrooms overlooking Grand Boulevard.
Photo by Eva Connors (click for larger version)
"There was enough here to be able to restore original character," Smith said.

In the inaugural class of 2010, Glickert said students came from 80 different schools around the area.

"We're drawing kids who have a lot of formal training, but we're also pulling kids who have high desire but not necessarily lots of formal training," Glickert said. "We've had kids that didn't know they had something creative in them, kids who didn't know they could sing or dance. If they're willing to show us something artistic, they're already the kind of student we want here."

Not all renovations will be finished by the time the school opens in August. Some music classrooms will remain incomplete, but the building will have more than enough space for 2011-2012 school year, including five extra classrooms. Glickert said the space will fill quickly in the coming years. 

"I believe we could have 10 art schools in the city and we still wouldn't have enough classes," she said.

Interested families and members of the community can tour the building on Wednesdays (8 to 10 a.m.) and Thursdays (1, 3 and 6 p.m.) through July 28. Tours will also be available by appointment starting July 13. For more information, visit www.grandcenterartsacademy.org.

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