If you’ve ever passed by the rather majestic and frustratingly inaccessible old school building on Shaw Street, and wanted to be a part of its future, this may be your chance. The school, located between Queen Street West and Dundas Street West, has been closed and locked for the past decade. Last week, local hero Artscape announced that it has entered into an agreement with the Toronto District School Board to purchase and revitalize the century-old facility.
The new arts centre will provide spaces for non-profit arts organizations and artist studios on both below-market sale and rental bases. Today, Artscape released a Request for Expressions of Interest from groups or individuals who wish to identify their interest in purchasing or renting space in the soon-to-be Artscape Shaw Street Centre.
Artscape’s president and CEO, Tim Jones, talked to us about the process of securing this massive location. “It’s been a long time in the works. We’ve been working on it for at least four years, and we’ve had our eye on the place for many more years than that.” The urban development organization isn’t the only group who had their sights on the space. In an interview with the Star, Ward 10 Trustee Chris Bolton stated that, at one point, a condo developer had put forth an offer to buy the building.
It’s easy to understand why the building has captured the imagination of many. The large three-storey stone structure is in the heart of the West Queen West neighbourhood, just one street away from Trinity Bellwoods Park, covered in large windows, and gathering an ever-increasing air of mystery due to the simple fact that you can’t get in.
Light streams into the hallway of the Shaw Street School.
Torontoist was lucky enough to be granted a private tour, and the interior does not disappoint. The scale of the rooms is enough to make you want to stow away in a cupboard and hope that no one remembers you were part of the tour. It’s seventy-thousand square feet of well-proportioned opportunity. (We’ll have more exclusive photos to share soon in an upcoming feature about this amazing building.)
Despite its allure, the site does come with its own set of unique challenges: it not only shares property with, but is currently physically attached to, the adjacent Givins Shaw Public School. While the two buildings will be severed before the Shaw Street Centre opens, there are considerations to address when operating so close to an active public school. As a result of an extensive feasibility study, which looked at ways to tailor the centre to the site, Artscape plans to put an emphasis on programs and organizations that focus on serving youth. “We know that there’s interest in this out there,” says Jones. “We’re hoping that, in response to the Request for Expressions of Interest, there’s interest that comes forward in that regard.”
Artscape has been securing the survival of Queen West’s artistic vitality since 1995, when they opened the city’s first legal live/work studios for artists just around the corner at 900 Queen West. Their recent coup in acquiring the Artscape Triangle Lofts—seventy residential units for artists and arts workers in the future West Side Gallery Lofts—is demonstration not only of commitment, but of straight-up savvy. Says Jones: “The Triangle as a project, and now the Shaw Street project, really allow us to respond to the changing conditions of the area with a significant amount of space, and in a way that will really help to ensure that these hot beds of creativity continue to thrive.”
While it will be an estimated two years before the doors officially open on the Artscape Shaw Street Centre, the proverbial door is now ever-so-slightly ajar. As of today, you can consider your possible involvement in the project, and community meetings will be held during the process to keep the dialogue open. Jones is optimistic about the centre’s reception. “In putting this project together we’ve met many of the neighbours, and it’s really a dynamic, interesting, and creative neighbourhood. We’ve found that people there are really open and enthusiastic about getting involved in helping to make this thing work.”
Photos by Michael Chrisman/Torontoist.