The New Place

This summer our little art school is packing up and moving eleven minutes up the road to a temporary home in a yet to be opened middle school. We’ll be there two years, as bulldozers raze the CE Mason Elementary School building that has been ACMA’s home since the school opened in 1992, and crews begin building our new campus, which will open in the fall of 2021. It will be amazing.

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Looking ahead to the new place, it’s exciting to know that for the first time in our school’s history we’ll be making art, making music, and making meaning in a building constructed for our school and its unique focus. Gone will be the elementary classrooms converted in to ceramics studios, dance rooms, and science labs. Gone will the the portables out back, sagging with age, but still (miraculously) places from which film, music, and dance students have created professional level art for years. Gone too will be the need to use the library as a classroom, hold choir class in the house of the auditorium, or watch students eat lunch in a Quonset Hut without running water.

Truth be told, it has been fun saying we have a campus with a Quonset Hut, but that doesn’t mean we’ll miss it all that much day to day.

Our arts and communication programs will finally have the facilities they need and deserve. A new painting and drawing studio, a new design lab for animation and design classes, and a new ceramics studio will anchor the building on the main level of a two story building. Facing out onto a large commons, with a stage built perfectly for open mic nights and impromptu concerts, these three visual art rooms will be built to be studios, not converted elementary classrooms. To know that our students will have these spaces to create is inspiring, and, to introduce a clunky metaphor, it feels like the road has finally caught up with the cars.

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Just south of the visual arts rooms, a new film complex will take the place of the portable we’ve used for years. Inside will be editing equipment, three separate film studios, and enough room for screening films for a class full of students. Located centrally, this film area will be a place where students can learn their craft with the technology and infrastructure they need, and have access to campus without having to pass by every classroom in session.

Also on the main floor, tucked between a new kitchen, the library, and the existing PAC, is a new music wing. With two large rooms, a recording studio, and practice rooms, this addition to ACMA replaces a low ceilinged portable and a white board rolled into the Blue Box theatre as the home of music at ACMA. Adjacent to the performing arts center, which will be connected to the main building by two interior hallways, these rooms give ACMA musicians the upgrade they need to continue making music -jazz, orchestral, and choral- a cornerstone of our arts program.

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Upstairs three dance studios jut out from the eastern wall, roofs raised and windows ample for light. These practice spaces, larger than our current facilities, are next to two changing rooms with lockers inside for dancers’ gear. That our dancers will no longer have to change clothes in a bathroom is as welcome as it is overdue. Add to that the fact that all three studios will be inside the building, better for supervision and safety, and our dance program will find itself in a professional space worthy of its caliber.

Across the hall from the dance rooms, separated by an open gallery and collaboration space, is a photo room, much larger than the smaller CE Mason space, complete with darkroom. Most places don’t still teach with actual film, focusing exclusively on digital photography, but ACMA is not most places. Here we recognize that there is something magical about photos, negatives, and working in the darkroom. Our photography students graduate from ACMA with a richer foundation and more comprehensive understanding, and the darkroom that will be a part of our new construction continues that tradition we’re proud to hold onto.

In addition to the upgraded arts facilities, the new library, full kitchen, and the commons area, the new building will have two high school science labs as nice as any in the district, as well as two middle school science labs, a first in our school’s history. The two middle school labs are part of the additional four teaching spaces that will be a part of the new campus, and we shouldn’t need to use the library as a classroom.

Those classrooms get upgrades too. While the current campus has portables with classrooms of less than 600 square feet, classrooms in the new building will average more than 900 square feet, come equipped with projectors or large screens that can connect to computers, and new furniture. We’ll make them our own, with classroom libraries for the English rooms and that sort of thing, but they’ll all rise in quality to meet the district specs that guide all new construction.

I’m even told they’ll warm up in the winter, heated by a 21st century system, not a boiler older than most of our teachers.

Outside students will find the familiar, and much loved, single basketball hoop, behind it not the breakable windows of the science lab (Mr. Kraxberger will be happy), but a mural wall (blank when we move in, but not for long), outdoor seating for lunch, and space enough for a class to meet outside or a play to be performed al fresco.

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A walking path and student garden will live in the grassy area north of the building, with enough open space for students to play, as they do now in the interior courtyard and outside the portables. It should also give us enough space for an amazing putt-putt golf tournament on the last day of school.

Traditions like putt-putt golf will go with us to our temporary home as well, and it’s important to know that when we move back into our permanent campus in 2021 we will bring to that space the ACMA spirit that has grown in our current building over the past quarter century. At ACMA we love murals, music in the mornings, and our Hallway of Hope and Justice; holding on to those traditions and eccentricities that help to define us as a school will help to make our new construction feel like home.

To that end we’re planning to recycle some of the wainscoting from the hallway for our circulation desk in the library and reception area in the front office. The art we can save we will, and the art painted on plaster that can’t be removed we’re making large, high qualities photos of to serve as our first art show. They’re pretty cool and will be going with us to the new building.

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All that said, it’s still an emotional time at ACMA. Many teachers have been here for years, and some for nearly all of their careers, and to lose this gem is heart-wrenching. Add to that the uncertainty of moving into a building we haven’t seen, one still on architects’ drawings, small boxes hardly able to represent the living, breathing spaces that will house learning two and a half years from today. There is no vibrancy in a printed map like what we’ll experience once we move home, and in the absence of that understanding it’s easy for concern to grow.

But vibrant we are and vibrant we will be. For the next two years we will bring our artistic exuberance to our “rental” and then in the fall of 2021 we will host an opening night like no one has ever seen as we bring up the curtain on our new building.

We are not a comprehensive high school, nor built to be; we are Arts & Communication Magnet Academy, and the new campus will be designed and built for students to learn and create for the next 75 years, if not beyond.

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