WILKES-BARRE — One shop room still sports a few of the old tools and that classic dingy beige floor, though there are some new tables and new tech wired in. The second shop room, by comparison, has scant remnants of its past, boasting a wall of mirrors with a ballet barre the length of the room and a “sprung” wood dance floor.
“It’s self-contained,” Wilkes-Barre Area School District Superintendent Brian Costello said with a smile as he provided a preview tour of the space at GAR Memorial High School converted to house the new Creative And Performing Arts Academy (CAPAA).
“There are restrooms, and there are separate men’s and women’s dressing rooms,” he added.
The long dance area technically can serve as two separate dance spaces, marked by two separately hung sections of suspended ceiling that still leave ample room to see the much higher original ceiling and shop-related duct and pipe work.
It’s arguably the most impressive of several GAR rooms redone to house the Academy, a sort of school within the school that will give half-day classes of about three hours daily to students in dance, music (choral and instrumental), theater and visual arts.
Each newly revised section is designed to have a door accessible to the outside, so students and community members can access the academy’s resources outside of school hours if necessary. The stage and auditorium act as a hub where all the lessons can merge to put on periodic performances, with the goal of giving Academy students some cross-training in the different arts.
A visual arts class working on props for a stage (in that room that kept a few appropriate shop tools, for example) could take some choreography. “There will definitely be cross-over lessons,” Costello promised.
All sections have practice areas and classroom areas. A wide hallway outside the dance studio has been carpeted and will serve as classroom space, for example, where students can learn the history of various dance forms and the technicalities of choreography, dance teacher Raphael Cooper said.
The cost has been relatively small, Costello said. The school board approved $35,000 for the new dance floor in May, and he is hoping much of that will be recouped through insurance. The room was remodeled following substantial water damage several years ago caused by roof problems.
About $12,000 was spent to purchase 12 electronic keyboards in the updated music room — chorale instructor Joelle DeLuca said all music students will learn to play the piano — but Costello expects to nab grant money to cover that cost. Twenty acoustic guitars hang on the wall or sit on a table in the choral practice room, where instrumental teacher Alice Lyons was strumming a few cords. Costello said the guitars were sitting largely unused at the Plains/Solomon Education Complex.
There are three small practice rooms, and one room reserved for a digital recording studio that Costello expects to fund with a grant. The class part of the art center is furnished with high desks also brought over from Plains/Solomon.
“This room didn’t cost one dollar to the district,” Costello said.
About 150 students auditioned to enroll in the Academy this first year, DeLuca said, and about 75 were accepted. “We use an audition process similar to colleges.” Students from several other districts also wanted in on the new program, though Costello said it was not clear how many would be part of it right now.
The program is being staffed without additional hires so far, Costello said, and part of the plan is to bring in outside artists and teachers to contribute. Shop students are now getting lessons at the Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technology Center. And Costello repeatedly praised the staff for working hard to make the Academy work.
“I say this is what I want and they make it happen,” he said, noting that studies have shown a strong link between art offerings in a school and the academic success of students.
“This is a gift,” DeLuca added. “This is a gift to students.”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish