By Jennifer Mrozowski
The Cincinnati Enquirer
OVER-THE-RHINE - Plans to build a new K-12 arts school in Over-the-Rhine got a big boost Wednesday with a $4.5 million challenge grant from four anonymous donors, but organizers say they still have a long way to go and not much time.
A nonprofit fund-raising group - The Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center - has been trying to raise half the cost of the proposed $52 million building, which would be built just south of Music Hall on Elm Street.
The Cincinnati Public Schools board of education plans to pay the remaining $26 million.
Erich Kunzel, conductor of the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra and chairman of the fundraising group, on Wednesday said the school's location would allow students to have unprecedented access to performance artists from Music Hall, the nearby Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival and other art venues.
"We have this whole nucleus of arts here," he said. "My dream is to take the students and the teachers and put them into a professional atmosphere."
Before Wednesday's announcement of the challenge grant, fund-raisers had raised $8.5 million. A deadline looms to raise the rest by June so construction on the project can begin around 2005, as planned.
But the challenge grant has an even tighter deadline: Organizers have to match the money by April 15.
"I'm convinced we'll reach this goal and this dream will be realized," said Bill Knodel, president of the fund-raising group.
The new 1,500-student school would replace the School for Creative and Performing Arts, a 95-year-old building in Pendleton that houses grades 4-12, and Schiel Primary School for Arts Enrichment, a K-3 school in Corryville.
Project supporters say the new school would be the only public K-12 arts school in the nation.
Kunzel said the school would also be a boost for Over-the-Rhine.
The new arts school is part of a $1 billion construction project to build and renovate 66 Cincinnati public schools over the next decade.
Plans call for the arts school to be complete in 2008.
Speaking from Memorial Hall just a few feet where the new school would be built, Cincinnati Schools Superintendent Alton Frailey said the dream to build a new K-12 arts school has been deferred too long.
"It is time to bring the vision home," he said. "And home is right behind this building - here in Over-the-Rhine."
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