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Dedham's old Avery school begins transformation

Posted by Dave Eisenstadter  May 20, 2013 07:41 AM

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Preparing for a ribbon cutting in June, leaders of the Mother Brook Arts and Community Center are assessing what they need to turn a former school into a new arts and community space.

Some tenants have already moved in, converting former classrooms into studios, while others are looking at the rooms and figuring out what will meet their needs, according to the organization’s co-executive director, Sarah R. Blum.

“We have a list of 60 people who would like space,” Blum said last week.

One who has already moved in is photographer Alex Jones, whose studio is in a former classroom on the upper floor. His desk is placed in front of the old blackboard, overlooking vast sheets and lights – the setup of a professional photographer’s studio.

A small plaque announcing the space of Alex Jones Photography sits outside the door.

“I used to do this at home,” Jones said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Other tenants include the Dedham School of Music, which took on a classroom in addition to the space in now fills at the Dedham Community House, eight de Cordova Museum silversmiths, and a handful of other artists who have done work of their own to convert the space.

For others, rooms will have to be modified.

“The building department is requiring us to make renovations so every single studio has two means of egress,” Blum said.

That requires knocking holes in concrete walls in some cases. The cost of that, along with installing partitions to break up classrooms into smaller studios, will be about $26,000, according to Blum.

That amount is as low as it is because of volunteer labor that Blum and the organization will enlist, getting artists to carry out rubble and to paint the walls after the construction workers have punched holes in the walls.

“It’s a patchwork of help making it affordable for us,” Blum said.

Another conversion will take place on the basement level, where a boys bathroom will be split into two bathrooms, and the girls bathroom will be converted into a ceramics studio.

The gym will stay as it is, but will be used as a performance space, and the library will hopefully be turned into a café, according to Blum.

Over the next five years, the Mother Brook Arts and Community Center will work to install a sprinkler system, an elevator, and an HVAC air conditioning system, Blum said.

In the meantime, the organization is preparing for a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Wednesday, June 12, at 6:30 p.m.

Inside the former gym, which is now presentation space, will be music and food. Tours of the building will be provided and a ceremony will be held in front of the building.

“It’s a great community and we were engaged by the enthusiasm and the support that the community gives for this,” Blum said. “It’s a hard thing to do and a hard time to be doing it.”

The building was used as the Avery Elementary School until a new school was completed in April 2012. It is being leased to the Mother Brook Arts and Community Center following a re-use committee recommendation and a Town Meeting vote allowing selectmen to form an agreement with the organization.

The organization will eventually pay a percentage of the rent it receives from tenants to the town.

The bills for the center will be paid through tenant rent, rent of the performance space, and through community classes, according to Blum. The space's annual operating budget is $259,000, she said.

Click here for pictures of the renovations.

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