Cleveland School of the Arts offers a cutting edge professional setting

This week, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD) welcomes more than 600 students to the new Cleveland School of the Arts (CSA), located at 2064 Stearns Road.
"This facility will really allow the students to experience being an artist," says head of school John LePelley of the gleaming professional venue. The CSA is a grade or two above a traditional school building "where we're in a classroom with desks and were trying to sing," adds Pelley. New to CSA, he was formerly principal of William Cullen Bryant Elementary School and assistant principal of St. Martin de Porres High School.
Amenities in the new CSA include a kiln, a dark room, photography studio, four individual sound-proof practice booths for singers and musicians, two band rooms (each approximately 1,700 square feet) that are acoustically isolated via vestibules, a fully outfitted recording studio, a 2119-square-foot choral room, two 1,800-square-foot dance rooms worthy of Princess Odette and Prince Siegfried, and a hip 3,124-square-foot Black Box theater, in which students can immerse themselves in delivering the total performance experience.
"Our goal here is to teach students and prepare them for all aspects of the arts," says LePelley from the elevated catwalk surrounding the Black Box Theater and adjacent to the techie control room, "so with drama, it's not just acting. It's behind the scenes: set design, lighting, sound, all of it."
Likewise, two sleek gallery spaces (752- and 514-square feet) will allow students of the visual arts to engage in the professional practice of displaying their work.
"Throughout the year, we will operate these just as art galleries in the real world. There will be openings and events," says LePelley, adding that students will be obliged to prepare their work and plan for shows just like a working artist.
Visual art studio/classrooms will have prep/storage rooms and are designed with an eye on future curriculum expansions.
"We're really going to be able to expand the visual arts programming," says LePelley, noting that the previous CSA could accommodate traditional visual arts such as drawing, painting and photography. "But now we can bring in a loom for a textile course. We can have industrial design here."
Other traditional features include a 6,579-square-foot gymnasium with a portable stage and classrooms that will accommodate standards such as math, social science, chemistry, English and the like.
"The same way we want to prepare students of the arts for competitive programs," says LePelley, "we really want all of our students to be able to be to apply for competitive academic colleges and universities as well."
Groundbreaking for on the $36.5 million project was in July 2013. Moody Nolan was the lead architect and Ozanne-Hammond-Gilbane-Regency was the contractor. The building is certified LEED Silver and includes design features such as a white roof, a retention/detention system that diverts storm water into ponds and a chilled beam HVAC system that construction administrator for Moody Nolan, Anne Hartman, describes as significantly more efficient than forced air systems and virtually dust-free.
A replica of Mark Howard's mural, which graced the exterior of the previous CSA, which was demolished to make room for the new school, will be installed in the main stairwell overlooking the intersection of Carnegie Avenue and Stearns Road.
The 126,000-square-foot space can accommodate up to 775 students. The CSA will be transitioning over the next years from a grade six through 12 school to a high school, housing grades nine through 12. Last year's sixth graders are grandfathered in. Hence the 2015/2016 school year will include grades seven through twelve and the following year will accommodate grades eight through twelve.
While CSA is a public school within the CMSD, students must audition in order to be considered for inclusion. Notable alumni include rhythm and blues performer Avant and Ohio State Representative Stephanie Howse.
While the school is made of steel, glass and plasterboard, LePelley does not see it as containing his students, but offering them a portal to creativity instead.
"In a traditional school, it's chaotic, but here people have their outlet. You can go to the ceramics room and make something. You can play the piano and tune the world out. You can connect with yourself."

For additional insight, read a profile of Daniel Gray-Kontar, CSA's director of the literary arts department as well as an instructor of poetry, play writing and a senior writing lab.

Read more articles by Erin O'Brien.

Erin O'Brien's eclectic features and essays have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and others. The sixth generation northeast Ohioan is also author of The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts. Visit for complete profile information.
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