Practicing the art of transformation

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A before-and-after with the renovated building on the right. (Photo by BizSense staff.)

With construction wrapping up on the first half of a nearly $7 million facility, the Virginia Commonwealth University arts department is pulling into a former West Broad Street trolley station.

“We have the keys to the front building. There’s still little stuff going on there, but the building is habitable,” said Joe Seipel, dean of VCU’s art school.

The building at 814 W. Broad St. once housed an electric railway system linking Richmond and Ashland. Most recently, it was home to the Richmond Glass Shop. VCU has dubbed it The Depot.

The $6.8 million renovation project will now host a wide array of art functions.

The school paid $2.1 million for the building in February 2013.

Commonwealth Architects designed the renovated space. TRENT was the project’s general contractor and the building just received its final certificate of occupancy last week.

The Depot features a gallery space to showcase student artwork, a soundstage and a 6,000-square-foot research lab with prototype building machines, including laser scanners and plasma cutters. Seipel said that space will be used for interdisciplinary projects in conjunction with other VCU programs.

“It’s the first time we’ve had that kind of space that won’t be focused on any specific department,” Seipel said. “We’re really going to build that plane as we fly it, so to speak.”

There is also space for a private commercial tenant, though Seipel said there is not yet a lease in place for that part of the Broad Street-fronting building.

Meanwhile, a second section of The Depot development that faces Marshall Street is nearing completion. A new kinetic imaging space and an 8,000-square-foot dance studio will highlight the Marshall Street building.

Joe Mannix, VCU’s assistant director of construction management, expects that section will receive its certificate of occupancy towards the end of this month.

VCU’s art program, which totals about 3,200 students, will not be vacating any of its current space in other academic buildings as the department expands into The Depot.

The new building sits a block and a half west of the site of VCU’s planned $35 million Institute for Contemporary Art. Seipel said the location will help the student art program interact with the planned museum, which will focus on drawing traveling exhibitions to the corner of Broad and Belvidere.

“It [The Depot] really has connected this whole Broad Street corridor, he said. “It will be great because when the student gallery and the ICA are both running, we can do things that are sort of symbiotic.”

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