Performing Arts Centre part of Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts

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            Bird constructs $45 million Brock University project to revitalize downtown St. Catharines

GTA Construction Report staff writer

Brock University, through a unique collaboration with the City of St. Catharines, will help revitalize and transform downtown St. Catharines through its Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.

Designed by Diamond & Schmitt Architects and constructed by Bird, the $45-million project will also include an adjacent Performing Arts Centre (PAC). Together the facilities will include a 775-seat concert hall, a 300-seat recital hall, a 187-seat film theatre and a 210-seat community dance theatre.

Intended for both student and community use, the facilities are expected to create a hub for the city’s arts and culture.

School director Derek Knight, chair of creativity, imagination and innovation at the university, said: “The relocation of the Walker School fulfills Brock’s mission of reaching out and engaging the community in direct and meaningful ways. Not only will our presence play a key role in helping revive the city’s downtown core, but also our long-term commitment to fine and performing arts education ensures a continuing and vital role in our interactions with community arts groups, including local theatre companies, art centres and orchestral, choral or musical groups.”

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He said the school’s public outreach and programming with its focus on student outcomes, faculty research and professional events, such as the Walker Cultural Leaders’ Series, will enrich the opportunities for the public to experience the best of what the university has to offer, but now in the heart of the city.

Diamond Schmitt Architects has succeeded in understanding the university’s desire to move its fine and performing arts off its main campus “to a satellite urban location that will inspire the creativity of students, faculty and staff with the unique site and spatial intrigue of this group of historic buildings and new additions,” said Scott Roper, the university’s project manager, campus planning, design and construction. “The architects resolved a diverse and extensive range of academic requirements with an equally diverse and challenging set of existing buildings to give the initiative a distinctive place.”

The former Canada Hair Cloth building on St. Paul St. and an adjacent warehouse will be rehabilitated for multi-purpose use by the departments of dramatic arts, music, visual arts and the Centre for Studies in Arts and Culture and will provide state-of-the-art production and workshop support, music practice facilities, art studios, lecture and seminar rooms as well as a versatile stand-alone 235-seat theatre for drama students.

Humanities faculty dean Douglas Kneale said: “Creating a new centre of learning in the shell of an old industrial site is a “perfect metaphor” that will help future generations become part of Canada’s billion-dollar cultural sector. We are taking a 19th-century textile factory and turning it into a state-of-the-art facility for more than 500 students. Opportunities like this happen but once in a lifetime.”

The five-storey factory renovation included reclamation of its existing brick façade, wood flooring, pressed tin ceilings and fire doors to maintain and showcase the building’s heritage  New mechanical and electrical systems and improved acoustics and life safety systems will be installed.

“The idea to readapt the former Canada Hair Cloth building, an industrial structure with a capacity of 95,000 sq. ft., to a purpose-built facility dedicated to the fine and performing arts, was an inspired decision and a rare opportunity to both reinforce and rethink the future of arts pedagogy,” said Knight.

He added that the building’s ready adaptability to the needs of students in dramatic arts, music and visual arts is the result of a very detailed planning process over a four to five year period which “in effect signifies Brock University’s vision of the future: a fully resourced and integrated curriculum dedicated to both the practical and theoretical aspects of the fine and performing arts.”

The new 2,300 sq. m. structure, scheduled to open in the fall of 2015, will house a theatre with retractable seating, an art gallery, lobby space, study areas and dressing rooms.

The project is being funded in part through the provincial government’s Open Ontario program, with a $15 million contribution from Canadian fibre artist Marilyn I. Walker.

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