Group turning Clifton landmarks into legacies
Cincinnati Business Courier – May 4, 2007 by Melissa Haller Courier Contributor

Restoration projects that aim to be mindful of the past often require guesswork about history.
But in the case of the planned Clifton Cultural Arts Center (CCAC), there’s no speculation: The original trust of the land where the 1906 Clifton School building and 1880s McDonald Estate Carriage House dwell says the site is to be used “to promote the education of youth of both sexes” and to cultivate “a taste for science, literature and the fine arts.”

That’s precisely what the board of the CCAC has in mind.

“Our vision is that this should be a learning center in Clifton,” said Mark McKillip, an architect and one of the founders of the CCAC board. “The vision that they had back then is one that we want to continue into the 21st century.”

The board plans to renovate and expand the buildings, both to be vacant soon, on the nine-acre site to create a 57,000-square-foot venue where people of all ages can meet, take classes, and experience a range of arts from theater to painting to drawing, poetry, dance, cooking and music.

The first part of the project, restoring the carriage house, will cost $700,000. The two-level brick house will have one main multifunction space where there are plans for artist-in-residence programs and classes. The outside of the carriage house will be restored, windows repaired, and the slate roof repaired and preserved.

Eventually, McKillip says, they see that building as incubator space that can be rented. They hope to have that space complete by the time the Fairview German Language School, now under construction nearby, opens next year.

Then renovation of the Clifton School, scheduled by Cincinnati Public Schools to close in 2008, will begin. The first phase of the school renovation will cost $1.8 million, and planners hope to have it done in 2009.

In many ways, the buildings are a preservationist’s dream. The masonry walls of the beaux-arts building are structurally sound, as are the tiled Rookwood water fountains.

Under the school’s clock tower, a recognizable landmark in Clifton, is an auditorium that could seat 300 people. McKillip said they want to restore that area for performances.

“It has this very coffered ceiling with wood beams and we want to open that back up,” he said.

Among the biggest challenges is that the building doesn’t have an elevator, which will need to be installed to transport people and equipment. The building also needs to be brought up to current building code standards, which includes installing a sprinkler system. The approximately 18 classrooms are fully functional as they are, he said.

Other groups want to use the building as well, including the Art Academy of Cincinnati, the University of Cincin nati’s College- Conservatory of Music Preparatory Department, and the Institute for Lifetime Education. Strata-G Communications will do the marketing.

“We’re really trying to reach out to the community around us,” said Amy Dennison, director of the CCM Prep department.

She hopes to have after-school programming, such as drama, voice and perhaps guitar lessons, at the center. “It’s going to be really worthwhile both for us and the community,” she said.

“That’s the exceptional part of our vision,” said McKillip, who estimated that the CCAC will draw people from six to eight miles away. “We have a broad audience when you cover an area like that.”

Cultural Arts
A group of residents and arts leaders are working to restore the school and carriage house. The Clifton Cultural Arts Center will offer arts, cooking and music classes for adults and children. Partners include the Art Academy of Cincinnati, The University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music Preparatory Dept., and the Institute for Lifetime Education.