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Ground broken for Brock arts school 0

File photo of Standard reporter Jeff Bolichowski.

By Jeff Bolichowski, The Standard

Delegates break ground on Brock University's Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts in St. Catharines May 31, 2013. School namesake Marilyn Walker is at centre.

Delegates break ground on Brock University's Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts in St. Catharines May 31, 2013. School namesake Marilyn Walker is at centre.

It was a ceremonial first spark Friday for an arts school Brock University officials vowed will light a fire under St. Catharines's arts community.

The school celebrated Friday with a ground-breaking ceremony at the Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts, though construction has been ongoing since January. That didn't stop officials from predicting big things when the school opens its doors in 2015.

"We are witness to the perfect metaphor for Niagara's industrial past and its post-industrial future," said Douglas Kneale, dean of Brock's faculty of humanities. The school will go into the old Canada Hair Cloth building.

Kneale said the school will be a "living, breathing furnace of innovation" where artists of all disciplines "collide creatively ... like sparks off a flint.

"In return, the community of St. Catharines will catch fire and experience in new ways the transcendence, the ache, the wow that only the arts can give us."

The $39.6 million school — paid for in part by a $26.2-million provincial grant — will host 500 students, faculty and staff.

St. Patrick's Coun. Mark Elliott figured the school could be a boon for the area behind St. Paul St.

"Some people hate this. Some people love it," he said.

"I think there's fabulous potential for this side to expose and to improve it."

The presence of students downtown could also be a big plus, Elliott figured.

"It's a fantastic day," he said.

He praised the work on the old factory by contractor Bird Construction. "The beauty of the building is actually being exposed more and more."

Brock president Jack Lightstone said the art school hits the high points of the university's strategy. He said it will engage the community and drive Niagara's development.

"This building ... will do all of that by bringing 500 students and staff into the heart of the community," he told delegates gathered in the shadow of the old building, its facade crisscrossed by scaffolding and pockmarked with openings left by missing bricks.

The school, Lightstone said, will be integrated with the city-led performing arts centre on St. Paul St.

"Our partnership with the city has truly been wonderful, from beginning to end," he said.

"This is yet another wonderful day, another wonderful milestone."

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