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A Journey Continues

Suzanne Parker, left, and Yadillete Rivera-Colón

Suzanne Parker, left, and Yadillete Rivera-Colón in the new home of Girls Inc. of the Valley on Hampden Street in Holyoke.

An adventure.

A struggle.

An experience.

A journey.

Suzanne Parker used all those terms and others that would be considered synonyms, usually with more than a hint of understatement in her voice, to describe the process of taking Girls Inc. of the Valley to the doorstep of opening its new headquarters facility in Holyoke.

The journey, adventure, or whatever she wants to call it is far from over. In fact, construction is still in what would be considered phase 1. But most of the really hard work — and there has been a mountain of it — is now behind Parker, executive director of this nonprofit, and countless others who have been involved.

Thus, they can focus even more of their energies on making this facility all that they hoped it could be when people first started thinking about a new home more than seven years ago.

Indeed, Parker noted that the ceremonial ‘thermometer’ erected on a sign just outside the property on Hampden Street needs to be adjusted to reflect that 92% of the stated $5 million fundraising goal has now been met. Meanwhile, work continues inside on the various spaces that will define this facility, from a community room to a maker space to a teen lounge.

The work to create a new space for Girls Inc. began in earnest out of necessity — specifically, the knowledge that a 40-year lease on property the nonprofit was leasing in downtown Holyoke was expiring and would not be renewed — and brought Parker and other leaders of Girls Inc. to countless properties in or near downtown Holyoke in search of the perfect fit, knowing that such a thing probably didn’t exist.

But they found something close in the former headquarters of the O’Connell Companies on Hampden Street, a building, or at least portions of it, that date back to the late 19th century.

“Throughout this journey, we have gained a great deal of visibility, and people have been able to learn about who we are, what we do, and why Girls Inc. is so important to this region. It’s been a great opportunity to tell our story and get people involved.”

Retrofitting the multi-level structure, complete with many unique spaces, has become a labor of love for those involved with Girls Inc. — and so much more.

Indeed, for many of the girls who are members, it has been a unique, hands-on learning experience, with real-life lessons in everything from marketing to fundraising to architecture. In fact, several girls worked directly with lead architect Kuhn Riddle to design one of the spaces in the new home.

The ‘thermometer’ measuring donations to the Girls Inc. campaign needs to be updated to reflect that more than 90% of the needed $5 million has been raised.

The ‘thermometer’ measuring donations to the Girls Inc. campaign needs to be updated to reflect that more than 90% of the needed $5 million has been raised.

Meanwhile, this quest for, and the building of, a new home has been a tremendous opportunity for Girls Inc. to gain exposure, make new connections, and strengthen existing ones, said Parker, adding that this work is ongoing as the nonprofit works to raise that remaining 8% of the funds needed.

“Throughout this journey, we have gained a great deal of visibility, and people have been able to learn about who we are, what we do, and why Girls Inc. is so important to this region,” she said. “It’s been a great opportunity to tell our story and get people involved.”

And, in many ways, the project has been a means to celebrate and promote women in all kinds of businesses who have been involved in this endeavor. That list includes those working in fundraising, finance, law, architecture, and construction, as we’ll see.

This has also been a study in perseverance, said Yadilette Rivera-Colón, an assistant professor of Biology at Bay Path University, BusinessWest Forty Under 40 winner, and current Girls Inc. board chair, noting that the many inherent challenges in a project like this were magnified greatly by the pandemic, which made every aspect of the work more difficult.

Summing it all up, Parker said that, while there is much to do, a celebration of all that has been accomplished — and learned — is in order. And Girls Inc. will do that in March as it marks the passing of the 90% milestone in fundraising, as well as the completion of the first phase of construction. There will be tours and an opportunity to make more connections and more friends.

It will be an occasion to celebrate what’s been done and what this new home will be — and there is much in both categories.


Home Work

As she talked about the search for a new home and the many properties she and others toured during that lengthy process, Parker paused, glanced skyward, and let out a heavy sigh, body language that pretty much told the story.

“There was a four-year period where I was visiting nearly every building in the city of Holyoke,” she told BusinessWest, adding that, while many were attractive in some respects, none could really check all the boxes she wanted to check.

One was seemingly perfect in most ways, but had little if any parking, she said. Other property makeovers into a permanent home for the agency were simply out of the agency’s price range. And a great number simply needed way too much work to fit the bill.

Eventually, some properties graduated beyond the tour stage and into the exploration, or feasibility, stage, and that further consideration meant investments in time, energy, and sometimes money, she explained. And as the vetting process continued, there were often hard decisions about if and when to let go and move on to something else.

“To have to decide not to go ahead with it is a big decision,” she explained. “You’ve invested time and energy and resources into that, but you have to make a decision … that this is not the one. But you don’t know if the one is out there. There were lots of hard decisions to make.”

The property on Hampden Street didn’t exactly check all the boxes, either. Indeed, its front door is literally a five-foot sidewalk away from a very busy street, said Parker, adding that there were infrastructure issues as well.

But those few shortcomings were all but lost in everything else the building provided — from ample parking at a lot just a few hundred feet away to a backyard; from easy access to a nearby public park to 16,000 square feet of intriguing space Parker described as a “blank canvas” that would enable Girls Inc. to accomplish its primary goal of bringing all of its staff and programing under one large roof.

The property became available somewhat unexpectedly in 2020, at the height of the pandemic, and in many respects because of it — its owners had decided it would not be viable as office space moving forward with the advent of remote work. After some due diligence, those at Girls Inc. decided their search was over.

Some of the new and innovative spaces at the new home of Girls Inc

Some of the new and innovative spaces at the new home of Girls Inc. of the Valley include a teen lounge (seen here), a maker space, and a community room.

But the laundry list of challenges certainly wasn’t, especially with the way the pandemic slowed many aspects of this broad endeavor or prompted a full pause.

First, let’s back up a bit.

Our story starts back in 2016, with the knowledge that a new home was needed, said Parker, adding that an initial fundraising campaign, with a goal of $3 million, was launched in 2018 — long before a suitable space had been found. And the campaign got off to a great start, with gifts from the Kendeda Fund and the Elaine Nicpon Marieb Charitable Foundation.

“We were doing well,” said Parker. “And then, the pandemic hit, and we had to take a pause from the campaign. But the campaign steering committee continued to meet regularly throughout that time; we figured out how to use Zoom, we met virtually, and they kept meeting month after month.

“I think some people might have pulled the plug on a campaign,” she went on. “But we kept working.”

And this work enabled Girls Inc. to push ahead after all its due diligence on the Hampden Street property and eventually commence work in the spring of 2022, bringing a long-held dream that much closer to reality.

Cynthia Medina Carson, an executive recruiter, talent consultant, and leadership coach now living in New York, is one the campaign co-chairs and a Girls Inc. alumna who grew up not far from its original home. She remembers walking into what was then a new space for Girls Inc. back in the early ’80s.

“The approach has been, ‘we’re not going to make this for you without you.’ Every part of the process involves the stakeholders; they have to be part of it, so that, in the end, this will be a building we will all be proud of.”

She also remembers thinking that setting aside space for girls was somewhat radical at the time — but very important. It gave girls a place to go, things to do, and opportunities to learn. She said that space — and the programs staged in it — was so important to her development that she signed on to get involved in finding and creating a new home.

“I know there’s a lot of afterschool programs and online stuff, but having the actual physical space where people can congregate and be who they need to be around people who advocate for them and champion them is a very unique thing to have for women,” she said. “So it was very important for me to get involved in this project.”

And like the others we spoke with, she said this has been a challenging journey, but an invaluable learning experience as well.

“It was hard and crazy, and it wasn’t the journey everyone thought it would be,” she noted. “We ended up where we needed to be, but it was hard; it was intense.”


Designs on Growth

As Parker and Rivera-Colón led BusinessWest on a tour of the facilities, they stopped in a number of the emerging spaces. In each one, they talked about how they would enable Girls Inc. to serve more girls and expand its mission.

The renovations were scheduled to enable significant amounts of program space to be ready this summer, said Parker, adding that, given the property’s prior uses as a home to lawyers, engineers, and other professionals, minimal work will be needed to prepare the space for the agency’s staff and administration.

These emerging spaces include:

• A community room, a large space suitable for both small- and large-group activities. It will be the site of healthy-living programming, including dance, active games, yoga, and meditation;

• Maker space, which will be the cornerstone of the Eureka! program, where eighth-grade girls begin a five-year journey toward possible careers in STEM fields. The space will be educational and fun, with hands-on activities; and

• A teen lounge, a space for teen girls to call their own. A relaxed and empowering environment, it will be loaded with college-readiness resources and will host a diverse range of teen-centered programs.

The renovation work at the agency’s new home — and many stages of the process that came before it — have, as noted earlier, provided learning experiences for girls involved with the agency, said Parker, noting that teens gave tours to donors and potential donors.

The red hard hats

The red hard hats at the home of Girls Inc. reflect a project that has been an adventure and a learning experience on many levels.

Meanwhile, some of the Eureka! program teens learned about architecture and design from the team at Kuhn Riddle, led by president Aelan Tierney (one of BusinessWest’s Women of Impact for 2022), and actually made one of the design decisions on one of the spaces — a lobby area outside of the teen center.

Overall, nothing about the new home for Girls Inc. has been finalized without the input of they main stakeholders: the girls themselves, said Rivera-Colon, adding that this includes the location of Parker’s office.

“The approach has been, ‘we’re not going to make this for you without you,’” she explained. “Every part of the process involves the stakeholders; they have to be part of it, so that, in the end, this will be a building we will all be proud of. Everyone has had input, from the youngest girls up to Suzanne, which I think is incredible.”

While offering tours and providing input on the new space, girls have also seen women at work on every facet of this project, which was another goal and another part of the learning experience, said Parker, adding that many area women professionals have been integral to this project.

That list includes Tierney at Kuhn Riddle; attorney Rebecca Thibault with Doherty Wallace Pillsbury & Murphy, a former Girls Inc. board member; construction managers D’Lynn Healey and Ta Karra Greene with Western Builders, the general contractor for the project; Vicky Crouse, president of Commercial Lending at PeoplesBank; and Julie Cowan, vice president of Lending for MassDevelopment.

These professionals serve as role models, said Parker, adding that, from the start, this project was to be women-led and girl-focused.

“It’s been incredible the number of women involved in leadership roles on this project,” Rivera-Colón said. “And it wasn’t by accident.”

Summing up the feelings of most people involved with this project, she added that “we’ve been so long in planning and executing all this that it doesn’t seem real that we’re finally here. But we are.”


Bottom Line

Given the words used by Parker and others to describe this long and difficult process, one can see why those involved would certainly not want to do this any time soon.

The good news is they won’t have to; the property on Hampden Street will suit the needs of Girls Inc. for decades to come.

While acknowledging that fact, all those involved also recognize that, as challenging as this journey has been, it has also been rewarding on countless levels. And it encapsulates all that this thriving agency is all about: enabling girls to learn, grow, and reach their full potential — together.

Considering all that, this has certainly been an exercise in building momentum for Girls Inc. — figuratively but also quite literally.


Nonprofit Management Special Coverage

Growth Is on the Menu


A rendering of the future Chicopee home of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, set to open in 2023.

A rendering of the future Chicopee home of the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, set to open in 2023.

While it manages an impressive flow of food from numerous sources to the people who need it most, in recent years, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has been doing that job in a space that’s not sufficient for the work. That will change with the opening, in 2023, of a new headquarters in Chicopee that will more than double the organization’s space and allow it to serve more people with more food and more nutrition and educations — in effect, expanding the menu of what’s possible at a time when the need is great.


The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts was launched in a Hadley barn 40 years ago. Four years later, it relocated to its current facility in Hatfield.

Today, as one of four regional food banks in Massachusetts, the organization provides food to 172 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters in Berkshire, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. Its food sources include the state and federal government, local farms — including two of its own  — retail and wholesale food businesses, community organizations, and individual donations.

The organization also provides other forms of food assistance, such as nutrition workshops, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment assistance, and education, public-policy advocacy, and engagement around issues of food insecurity.

That’s a lot of food and a lot of people being served, and not enough space to do it all. In fact, the Food Bank has had to turn away about a million pounds of food donations over the past three years, said Andrew Morehouse, its executive director.

The need for a new facility is nothing new, but the reality of one is finally on the near horizon, with a $19 million, 63,000-square-foot facility breaking ground in Chicopee next month and set to open next year, more than doubling the organization’s current 30,000 square feet of space.

Those are gratifying numbers, Morehouse said.

“This is a project we’ve been planning for probably six years, when we realized we were beginning to run out of space here at the facility in Hatfield. So we began the process of figuring out what we needed to do,” he told BusinessWest. “Do we want to expand the facility in Hatfield or purchase or build a second facility in Hampden County? Can we operate two facilities? If we can’t, are we prepared to move to the Springfield area?”

About three years ago, the Food Bank decided to move to Hampden County, for multiple reasons. “One is because it’s right at the crossroads of two major interstates, which facilitates loads of food to and from the Food Bank. We distribute large amounts of food, tens of thousands of pounds of food every day — over a million pounds every month.”

“It’s right at the crossroads of two major interstates, which facilitates loads of food to and from the Food Bank. We distribute large amounts of food, tens of thousands of pounds of food every day — over a million pounds every month.”

In addition, Hampden County boasts the region’s largest concentration of people facing food insecurity. “For that reason as well, we said, ‘we really need to be in Hampden County,’” Morehouse explained. “We’ve been an upper Pioneer Valley organization, even though we serve all four counties, and this affords us the opportunity to raise our visibility in Hampden County.”

More than two years ago, the Food Bank honed in on a building for sale on Carando Drive in Springfield and made an offer to purchase, but backed out after the inspection stage. “So we went back to the drawing board,” he said, and that process eventually brought the nonprofit to a parcel of land at the Chicopee River Business Park owned by Westmass Area Development Corp.

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president, when they announced pledges of $1.5 million each to the Food Bank’s capital campaign last year.

The space is plentiful — 16.5 acres, 9.5 of which are buildable, the rest protected as wetlands and greenspace. The Dennis Group had begun designing a building well before the land purchase (Thomas Douglas Architects also had a hand in the design), and C.E. Floyd, based in Bedford, will do the construction, with groundbreaking, as noted, likely to happen next month and the new facility expected to open in March or April 2023, with move-in complete by that summer.

“It’s twice the size of our current facility, which gives us the capacity to receive, store, and distribute more healthy food to more people for decades to come,” Morehouse said.


Special Deliveries

The Food Bank’s reach is impressive, serving as a clearinghouse of emergency food for all four counties of Western Mass., most distributed to local food pantries, meal sites, and shelters.

“It’s important to note that more than 50% of the food we distribute is perishable foods, like vegetables and frozen meats,” Morehouse noted. “And a lot of the non-perishable food is very healthy grains, pastas, beans, and nutritious canned food items, low in salt and sugar, for people who don’t have time to cook.”

Much of the food the organization collects is purchased, using state and federal funds, from wholesalers, local supermarkets, and three dozen local farms, from which the Food Bank purchased more than a half-million pounds of vegetables last year using state funds; farmers also donate another half-million pounds each year.

“It’s important to note that more than 50% of the food we distribute is perishable foods, like vegetables and frozen meats. And a lot of the non-perishable food is very healthy grains, pastas, beans, and nutritious canned food items, low in salt and sugar, for people who don’t have time to cook.”

“We’ve also increased our own capacity to distribute food directly,” Morehouse said. “Since the late ’80s, we’ve been providing food to seniors in 51 senior centers across all four counties, and we continue to do that. Every month, we send a truck and provide bags of groceries to 6,500 elders — about 16 food items to supplement elders who lived on fixed incomes. And in the last six or seven years, we initiated a mobile food bank where we send a truck once or twice a month to 26 sites in the four counties — 10 in Hampden County — and provide fresh vegetables and other food items to individuals who live in food deserts, neighborhoods that don’t have grocery stores where they can buy healthy food.”

Andrew Morehouse

Andrew Morehouse says moving food — tens of thousands of pounds of it a day — in and out of the Food Bank’s headquarters will be much more efficient in the new facility.

The federal government responded well to suddenly increased food-insecurity needs in the first year of the pandemic, Morehouse noted, but by late 2021, many of those expanded safety-net programs were sunsetting, at the same time inflation was sending food prices soaring. “We believe that will lead to another spike in demand for emergency food.”

He intends for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts to meet that demand locally.

“This brand-new building is designed to maximize the efficiency of the flow of inventory. Over the last 30 years at our current facility, we’ve been expanding in a very small footprint in any way we can; this new property allows us to maximize efficiency and store more food and move food in and out more quickly and have more bays to receive food and distribute it quickly.”

And because combating hunger requires multiple lines of attack, Morehouse plans to use the additional space for expanded nutrition education programs as well, including a large demonstration kitchen. He also plans to hire more staff.

“We have partnerships with local hospitals and community health centers to address people with food insecurity. We’ll have more staff to help people apply for SNAP benefits and have more community space to accommodate workshops and community events.”

One of the project funding sources, a MassWorks grant to the city of Chicopee for site development, requires the building to have a physical public benefit, Morehouse noted. “So we’ve entered into an easement agreement with the city where our parking lot and community room are available as emergency shelter in the event of a natural disaster.”

Speaking of funding, while the project budget is $19 million, the capital campaign aimed to raise $26.3 million, which includes financing, furniture, fixtures, equipment, legal costs, accounting, and fundraising. Of that, more than $25 million has already been pledged. Large earmarks included $5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and $1.6 million from Chicopee’s coffers.

“Mayor [John] Vieau has repeatedly said how proud he is that the city of Chicopee will become the hub for food insecurity for the four counties of Western Massachusetts,” Morehouse said.

Other sources of funding include a New Market Tax Credit investment program, which will raise $4.2 million from investors, as well as support from individuals foundations, and businesses, he explained. “Lastly, the Food Bank will invest the proceeds from the same of our current building to the campaign.”

When MassDevelopment issued a $9.5 million tax-exempt bond for the project earlier this month, MassDevelopment President and CEO Dan Rivera noted that “more residents of Western Massachusetts will soon be able to access nutritious food and supportive services with the construction of this bigger, modern Food Bank. MassDevelopment is proud to deliver tax-exempt financing to help the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts fulfill its mission of addressing food insecurity and empowering people to live healthy lives.”

“This is a great project to be a part of,” added Matthew Krokov, first vice president of Commercial Banking at PeoplesBank, which purchased the bond. “The Food Bank plays a vital role in alleviating food insecurities in our region, and this investment in the Food Bank’s future home will help provide better access for individuals in our community.”


Food for Thought

The project, like any large construction project these days, has run into supply-chain obstacles that have caused delay and boosted costs, but Morehouse and other stakeholders finally see it coming into focus — and not a moment too soon for an organization that provided 11.6 million meals in 2021, reaching an average of 103,000 individuals per month.

“We are excited the Food Bank of Western Mass. has chosen the Chicopee River Business Park to relocate their operations and headquarters,” Vieau said. “I can think of no better place in terms of access, efficiency, and accessibility than right here in Chicopee, at the crossroads of New England.” u


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]


Taking Center Stage

Frank DeMarinis stands in the balcony

Frank DeMarinis stands in the balcony overlooking the stage of the massive auditorium in what will soon be the new Springfield Conservatory of the Arts.

Frank DeMarinis understands that people frequently used the phrase ‘white elephant’ in association with the massive former Masonic temple on State Street.

What he could never understand is why.

Indeed, while many saw a property that was too big and too difficult to redevelop into something for the 21st century, he saw only potential.

“This is a piece of history — it is what you make of it,” said DeMarinis, owner of a number of businesses, with the lead being Westfield-based Sage Engineering & Contracting, adding that, when the property first came onto his radar screen and then into his possession (he acquired it for the bargain price of $100,000 from the church looking to unload it), he envisioned a boutique hotel to coincide with the arrival of MGM Springfield.

Those plans never materialized, but something different and with certainly greater implications for Springfield and its School Department did — conversion of the property into the new home of the Springfield Conservatory of the Arts, a magnet middle school and high school that, as the name suggests, offers an arts-infused curriculum and enables students to focus on their interest in the arts, whether they’re dancers, painters, musicians, or playwrights.

“The idea was to have a place for the kids who have an inclination for the performing arts to go to school,” said Conservatory of the Arts Principal Ryan Kelly, who arrived three years ago. “There’s now a place where singers and dancers and musicians can go to perform.”

At present, though, that ‘place’ — both schools are operating out of former Catholic schools, one in Indian Orchard (the middle school) and the other off Liberty Street — is limiting, and in all kinds of ways.

The middle-school students perform in the basement of a church, said Kelly, while the high-school students perform in an old gym that doubles as a music room.

“Everyone’s really excited to have a 21st-century arts building; this will be a tremendous showcase for the city.”

Things will change in a … well, dramatic way come September, when both schools move into what will be a state-of-the-art facility created out of the cavernous spaces within the old Masonic temple, including the huge, nearly 1,000-seat theater on its fifth floor, previously known as the ‘sanctuary,’ now undergoing a significant facelift.

“It’s an awesome facility — it’s going to be a great performance venue,” said Kelly, adding that the theater is just one of the facilities that represent a tremendous leap forward for the school and its students. Others include a black-box theater for drama classes, a large, modern dance studio on the same floor as the theater, a recording studio, a media center, a tech lab, state-of-the-art classrooms, and more.

Actually, there will be two of many of these facilities, one each for middle school and high school, said Kelly, adding that the former will be located on the first and second floors, and the latter on the third and fourth.

The much-anticipated opening this fall will put a bright spotlight not only on the Conservatory of the Arts, which has enjoyed steady enrollment but should get a significant boost with this new facility, but also on one of Springfield’s forgotten architectural gems.

The Masonic temple has been vacant and unused for years now, said DeMarinis, adding that it had fallen into a significant state of deterioration by the time he acquired it. The exterior has been preserved, but the interior has been largely gutted and significantly altered — entire floors have been added — to repurpose the landmark for its new use.

The Masonic temple on State Street

The Masonic temple on State Street has been mostly vacant and unused for many years, but it will now play a leading role in Springfield’s future.

For this issue and its focus on education, BusinessWest toured the work in progress that is the new Conservatory for the Arts to get a feel for how a big piece of the city’s past will play a large and intriguing role — that’s another arts-industry term — in the future of the community and the students who come through the facility’s doors.

Development of Note

As his tour stopped in what will be the teacher’s lounge, located on one of the upper floors of the new Conservatory of the Arts, DeMarinis pointed out the recently added windows on the west wall and, more specifically, the view they provide.

“You can see all of downtown Springfield,” he said, pointing out several of the landmarks, including the MGM casino.

With that, he noted that his original idea for the Masonic temple, a boutique hotel targeted toward high rollers, would have been an intriguing addition to the business landscape and, in his view, an almost-certain success story. He said he had some regret that those plans never materialized, but not much, because of what has emerged instead.

Flashing back roughly five years, DeMarinis said he was looking for his “next project” when the Masonic temple caught his attention, primarily because of its proximity to downtown Springfield and the announced site of the MGM casino.

There were already several ventures in his portfolio, including everything from the various Roots facilities in Westfield — an aquatic and fitness center and indoor and outdoor soccer fields among them — to an independent-living facility in Suffield to several distribution centers, including one for Utz potato chips. The temple offered the promise of further diversification.

“I toured the facilities, and it was in absolute shambles,” he recalled. “That’s why I picked it up really cheap.”

More than $1 million in cleanup later, including remediation of an asbestos-laden boiler room, DeMarinis was ready to look at potential opportunities.

One came his way with a request for proposals from Springfield school officials who acknowledged that a new home was needed for the school for the arts. They desired a location downtown, in or close to the “theater district,” as DeMarinis called it, a facility that would have state-of-the-art facilities and ample room for the school to grow.

DeMarinis said he had all that in the Masonic temple, and he also had a pricetag that others couldn’t approach because of the bargain price he paid for the property.

“It was a change of plans, but you adjust accordingly,” he said of his vision of the property. “I felt it was a much safer investment to work with the city.”

But getting the 88,000-square-foot, century-old temple ready for prime time has been a two-year process laden with challenges, from creating parking where there was none — a three-story garage was built behind the facility with room for 50 cars — to gutting and rebuilding the massive auditorium at the top of the building, to adding more than 100 windows to let natural light in.

The new facilities represent a quantum leap forward for the arts school, said Kelly, adding that he expects the new home to spark a rise in enrollment — the middle school is at or near capacity, but the high school is not — and also create much better learning and performance opportunities.

Ryan Kelly, principal of the Springfield Conservatory of the Arts

Ryan Kelly, principal of the Springfield Conservatory of the Arts, says the new facility will provide state-of-the-art learning experiences for students.

“It’s a real step forward,” he told BusinessWest. “The students will have real performance space, and we’re going to have full science labs, the auditorium for shows, a sound and recording room, a room with a greenscreen so we can make videos and newscasts … the facilities allow the teachers and the students to be more creative and express themselves more.

“We’re very much limited where we are,” he went on. “And now, the limitations will mostly be gone, so I’m really excited to see what the students can do with all this.”

To showcase the new school and reach full capacity (420 students, with current enrollment at roughly 350), Kelly said he’s forging plans to have fifth-graders, and perhaps parents as well, attend performances starting in the fall.

He believes the new building, and the learning experiences it creates, will inspire arts-oriented students to think about careers in that broad field and give themselves the best opportunity to pursue them.

“We figure that, if we bring them into the school, put on a show, and let them see the place, that should increase enrollment,” he said. “Everyone’s really excited to have a 21st-century arts building; this will be a tremendous showcase for the city.”

Show of Force

Referencing the current performance venues — the church basement and old gym — Kelly said they are woefully inadequate for what the school for the arts is trying to do with and for its students.

And that’s why the new facility is so important.

“It will enable them to be completely creative and just be released, and we’re really looking forward to that,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the Masonic temple is also being released. For decades now, it has been relegated to being a part of the city’s past, and, yes a white elephant.

Now, it has a starring role in the future of this intriguing school.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]