Art school renovation to begin

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By April Wright, Reporter

After several delays and more than two years after purchasing a building, USDA Rural Development has given Galax the go-ahead to solicit bids for renovating the old First National Bank building downtown into Chestnut Creek School of the Arts by mid-2009.

Bids for construction will be opened Oct. 30, and are expected to be presented to Galax City Council on Nov. 10. After the bidder is chosen and the contract awarded, construction should begin before the end of the year.

City Manager Keith Holland said construction could cost as much as $800,000. However, the city has received a $300,000 grant from Appalachian Regional Commission and a $300,000 private donation that will defray the cost.

“We're hopeful that it's not going to cost that much, and we're in a fairly good time of the year to get favorable bids,” said Holland.

Holland also suggested that tax credits could offset the expenses and he will know more about these credits once the bidding begins. The school could receive as much as $200,000 in tax credits, Holland told The Gazette last year.

The City of Galax acquired the 8,800-square-foot building, which had been vacant for several years, in June 2006 for $104,000.

“One of the primary purposes to start Chestnut Creek School of the Arts was to help with the downtown revitalization and help create a thriving economy while showcasing the heritage of the region,” said Holland.

CCSA — the first school of its kind in Southwest Virginia — will provide a year-round venue for the teaching of mountain music, arts and crafts to tourists and locals through semester classes, weekend workshops and five-day summer workshops.

Upon reaching full enrollment in four to five years, CCSA anticipates registering 5,782 students in various classes and workshops with tuition rates being at or below market status. At full enrollment, these rates would generate $492,684 for operation and administration of the school, creating three administrative positions and seventeen full-time faculty positions.

According to an economic impact study performed in March 2006 by K. W. Poore & Associates, CCSA is expected to create 63 jobs and provide a revenue stream of $1.7 million each year through lodging, food, fees and other areas.

For more than a year, a steering committee for CCSA — consisting of mostly artisans from Galax, Grayson and Carroll counties — has been planning classes, working on public relations material, recruiting instructors and creating partnerships.

And despite numerous delays because of USDA Rural Development requirements, classes have already been held throughout the summer at the Vaughan building in Galax, next to the public library, allowing administrators to get a head start on getting the school in the public eye, gauging the interest of locals and tourists and creating partnerships with artisans and others that will be beneficial to CCSA when it opens.

“We don't believe the school has been hurt by these delays,” said Holland. “By holding classes before we open the door, we've been able to see what works and what doesn't, and we expect to have a good enrollment.”

“We've received a very positive response from locals and tourists,” said Chris Shackelford, director of CCSA. “We're still in the fishing stage, but we've been very pleased with the response we've had and know that it takes time.”


and Facilities

Designed by Assistant City Manager Keith Barker — who is an architect — and Spectrum Design, most of the renovations will go towards the interior of the building, with some mechanical work outside.

The school will incorporate five classrooms, a music room and sound booth for recordings. But most of the building's lighting, windows and moldings will be kept the same to preserve its historical value.

CCSA, however, will not be confined to one building. Instead, it will provide a campus environment throughout downtown Galax through the help of private property owners.

Recently, CCSA was approached by the new owners of the building at 110 Oldtown St. — Richard and Judy Weigand — about leasing space for a 1,500-square-foot space for a pottery studio and teaching facility for the school.

In exchange for a lease, this would create a co-op membership for potters in the community, who would not only be able to sell and show their artwork, but visitors would be able to see pottery as it is being made when walking by the facility.

Shackelford announced at the last city council meeting that this provides a unique opportunity for CCSA, especially since a pottery studio is not part of the main building's renovation. So far, 10 individuals are interested in renting space at the studio for their use.

“Timing of this opportunity is beneficial because it allows us to build momentum with the curriculum and offer classes that have been proven successful,” said Shackelford.

ARC has provided an $18,000 grant for strategic planning and board development, which will begin in November.

In addition, CCSA will embark on a capitol endowment campaign the first of the year.

“We're very excited about getting it started, and we're hoping that it will pay off in the end,” said Holland.

“The school and the building will be a crown jewel in downtown.”