Tuesday, January 6, 2004

SCPA boasts history marker

Pendleton: Building's past recognized

By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The School for Creative and Performing Arts turned 30 this year and recently received a historical marker, but parents, teachers and students are making sure no one thinks the school is over the hill.

Historical marker outside the School for Creative and Performing Arts.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
Supporters hope the new Ohio Historical Marker, dedicated Dec. 19 as part of the state's bicentennial celebration, will be one more reason to save the 95-year-old building when a new performing arts school is built adjacent to Music Hall.

The new school, scheduled to be built in 2005, is part of the school district's $1 billion construction project.

Students submitted an application to the state for the historical marker because of the site's storied past, including ties to the Underground Railroad.

Even drama productions, such as School House Rock! running this month, are planned to honor SCPA and its site, said Joy Fowler, head of the school's writing department.

"Because we are a schoolhouse that rocks," Fowler said.

A school connection on the site dates to 1827, when leather tanner William Woodward and his wife, Abigail Cutter, donated land on Sycamore Street for a public school.

Woodward High School, said to be the first public high school west of the Allegheny Mountains, opened there in 1831.

Where Coffins lived

Abolitionist Levi Coffin and his wife, Catharine, who helped slaves escape to freedom in Canada, had a home on the site from 1856 to 1863, according to the historical marker. Levi Coffin is known as the "President of the Underground Railroad."

For the past 30 years, the site has housed SCPA, a high-achieving Cincinnati public school of about 1,000 students. It's also one of a handful of public schools in the nation offering a college preparatory curriculum combined with arts education in eight majors.

On any day, the halls of the grades 4-12 school are filled with the sounds of flutes, trumpets and saxophones in the stairwells; and a peek into classrooms finds students in leotards practicing at the barre, or building sets for the latest stage production.

The new 1,350-student K-12 arts building will combine the School for Creative and Performing Arts and Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment in Corryville, a K-3 school.

The Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center, a nonprofit arts group trying to match $26 million the Cincinnati school board has pledged, has raised more than $8 million.The group faces a deadline of June 15.

But the prospect of a new arts school doesn't deflect the nostalgia some people feel for the dilapidated building. Supporters hope the school building can be saved.

"I'm torn because I've been there since fourth grade," said sophomore Jazzmann McMullen, 15. "Being in a new building would be a little weird."

McMullen, who is majoring in vocal music and music theater, would like to see the building preserved.

"I don't know what it could be used for because it is old and falling apart, but it is part of the SCPA legacy," the East Walnut Hills resident said. "I don't want it to be torn down. I want to be 30 and drive by and say, 'I used to go to school there.' "

The district plans to sell or reuse old buildings that are being closed as part of the $1 billion plan.

"We don't plan to tear SCPA down," said district spokeswoman Christine Wolff. "Our intention is it will be adapted to some other use when we no longer need it. Likely, it would be sold for some other use."

About SCPA

Address: 1310 Sycamore St., Pendleton.

Enrollment: 1,057.

Grades: 4-12 (admission by audition).

Curriculum: College-preparatory with majors in dance, drama, instrumental music, music theatre, technical theater, visual arts, vocal music, writing.

Built: 1908. Building includes a 500-seat theater. Students also perform at the Aronoff Center and other venues

Famous students: actors Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City), Jeffrey Sams (Waiting to Exhale), Rocky Carroll (Chicago Hope) and Carmen Electra (Baywatch); three of the four singers in 98 Degrees (Nick Lachey, Drew Lachey and Justin Jeffre); and producer Rick Steiner (The Producers, Hair Spray).


E-mail jmrozowski@enquirer.com

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