Plans for a large-scale renovation and expansion of Buffalo’s Community Music School got the Buffalo Planning Board’s stamp of approval on Monday night. With the help of a generous donor, the nearly century-old school aims to put itself on display to the community through a new and innovative redesign.
The focus of the renovation is to gut and remodel the Community Music School’s entire Elmwood Avenue home. CMS Executive Director Jennifer Koch said six apartments will be turned into remodeled studio spaces – each acoustically engineered for the instruments that will be used in them. The building’s third floor will be converted into a 150-seat performance venue.
“We have monthly recitals, and we have our honors recital at the end of every year, where our students who pass their exams get invited to perform there,” said Koch. “That’s usually about 100 to 120 people come there. It’s also going to be an opportunity for other entities to rent the space from us.”
With all the potential the school already has to offer, Koch pointed out that many people don’t even realize it exists. They overlook what appears, from the outside, to be just another apartment building on Elmwood Avenue.
Originally constructed in 1904, the building has been home to CMS since 1959. Architect Michael Conroe of Architectural Resources aims to help make sure the community knows what’s going on in the school, with the addition of a performance space visible to the public.
“It’s a one-story glass addition that’s really going to bring the performance that happens inside the building out to the front, and it can really be celebrated along Elmwood Avenue,” said Conroe.
The glass room will face Elmwood Avenue, where people passing by could potentially stop and watch an artist at work, or even pull up a chair for a free performance.
“We do monthly recitals that are free and open to the public that nobody knows about,” said Koch. “If we have these free and open to the public recitals in a place where people can see them and stop in, that’s going to raise the awareness of what goes on inside that building.”
The school is including its surrounding community in the redesign process. They held an open house with tours and explanations of the building’s history for nearby residents and businesses. Conroe said two local business districts, including the Elmwood Avenue Association had positive feedback.
“Both of them absolutely love the design, which typically you don’t get. Usually there’s some debate, some back and forth,” said Conroe. “Design’s all about opinion, so usually you get ten different opinions from five different people on the design, but we had full support.”
Funding for the project is expected to come from a $3.5 million capital campaign already underway. The school is seeking support from local foundations, as well as corporate and private donors. They’ve also reached out to local leaders like State Assemblyman Sean Ryan to find out if there’s any chance of leveraging government funding towards the campaign.
“His people came and did a tour and reported back to him. He thought it was an excellent adaptive reuse of a very old building,” said Koch.
With hopes of breaking ground in Summer 2017 on what Koch said will be about a nine-month long project, CMS is already on its way to success thanks to one of its former students.
Andy Anselmo made a seven figure donation to the campaign. Anselmo is known for founding The Singers Forum Vocal Academy in New York and Boston but, according to Koch, his career began with a two-dollar voice lesson at CMS.
“Mr. Anselmo is going to be 93 in January and he took his first voice lesson at Community Music School when he was 15 years old. He went on to have a brilliant career as a voice coach to the stars” said Koch.
In honor of Mr. Anselmo, the school will take on a lengthier name – The Community Music School at the Andy Anselmo Center for the Performing Arts.