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City officials show off new high school for arts

When completed, the Downtown building will have up to 700 students

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

With opening day just two weeks away, the $38.5 million Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts High School is ready for its close-up -- and, many hope, a long run as a star attraction in the Downtown cultural district.

John Thompson, center, superintendent of Pittsburgh Public Schools, leads a tour yesterday through a dance studio in the new Pittsburgh High School for Creative and Performing Arts on Fort Duquesne Boulevard, Downtown. The studio is one of several rooms overlooking Pittsburgh's North Shore. The school will open this fall to 425 students in grades 9 through 12. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

"We feel this is one of the top not only in our country but in the world in performing arts high schools," said Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent John Thompson, who led a news media tour of the building yesterday with CAPA Principal Michael Thorsen.

Like its neighbor, the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the new school enjoys expansive views up and down the Allegheny River, both from inside the building and from its rooftop terrace -- one of several spaces that can be rented to outside groups for events, meetings and small performances.

The greatest benefit, of course, will be to CAPA's students, who will move from the former Baxter Elementary School in Homewood -- CAPA's home for the past 24 years -- to a state-of-the-art building created just for them.

The new school was designed for maximum flexibility, said its architect, Al Filoni of the Downtown firm MacLachlan Cornelius & Filoni. The cafeteria, adjacent to the library, can double as a social hall and informal performance space. Academic rooms become music studios in the afternoon.

Among CAPA's amenities are a 425-seat theater, a "black box" theater with flexible staging and seating, dance studios with resilient "sprung" floors and studios for painting and ceramics.

The school's location at the corner of Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Ninth Street was made possible by high-tech entrepreneur Francois Bitz, who not only donated the land -- once the site of a gasoline station -- but also six floors of the building he owns next door, which are joined to the new building.

Filoni took his bold design cues from the older building, which houses Dowe's on 9th restaurant and jazz club on its first floor. By sharing visiting musicians for seminars, the club will be one of the school's many Downtown partners.

CAPA will open with about 425 students in the new building and four floors of the older one; the school already is expanding into two additional floors of the older building. Enrollment will rise to between 550 and 600 next year and up to 700 when the two additional floors are complete. The school is attracting students from outside the district, including several whose families will pay the $11,300 annual tuition.

The architects and Mascaro Construction Co. brought the project in on time and $5 million under its $39 million budget.

Still unknown is the fate of the building facade's 30-foot-by-21-foot Panasonic Astrovision screen. It received city planning commission approval but not a go-ahead from the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which is reviewing it. The screen would showcase student artwork, live performances and coming events.

Patricia Lowry can be reached at or 412-263-1590.

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