LEWISBURG – “Don’t underestimate the power of your vision to change the world. Whether that world is your office, your community, an industry or a global movement, you need to have a core belief that what you contribute can fundamentally change the paradigm or way of thinking.” —Leroy Hood
Nowadays, finding someone that inspires you can truly be a challenge. Coming few and far between, these are the kind of people that one wants to surround themselves with to feel motivated, on top of the world, able to handle anything.
Michael Christie, a local artist, is one of those people . Bruce Schweizer, Bob Worley, John Hirt, and Christie are all in a partnership to undertake some massive renovations at the old Lewisburg Elementary School campus.
Where some see nothing, Christie sees a blank canvas; where others see a burden, he sees a project. This mindset is what led him to being one of the four people involved in the complete overhaul of the site on Lee Street.
Sprawling over almost five acres of land, the seven old school buildings haven’t been in use for years, and have sat mostly untouched after being purchased by the New River Technical College Foundation when Lewisburg’s new elementary school opened in 2012. The grounds are a familiar spot for many, with thousands of local kids passing from grade to grade, growing and learning in the old halls like so many before. Over the next few years, however, it will be nearly unrecognizable.
Already, the “E” building that many remember as the gym has begun to turn a new leaf, housing the brand new Lee Street Studios Centre for the Arts. Breathing new life into the structure one old classroom at a time, Christie described in detail how he and his crew evaluate each space and fix problems, epoxy the floors, replace the windows, paint, and make each room really work for the people renting them.
“There’s a wide variety of artists here already,” Christie said, “We have everything from marble sculptors, textile artists coming in, ceramic artists, a music studio, you name it.” The list goes on, and there’s plenty of space to fit all these projects under one roof (for the time being). Each old classroom is getting an overhaul and being turned into an individual studio space, while still being affordable. Lewisburg is already widely renowned as an artsy hubbub, between Carnegie Hall, Greenbrier Valley Theatre, and a plethora of art galleries, so it makes sense to provide a central place for artists to work.
The upper floor of “E” building is currently being developed as a gallery exhibition, where art from studio members is on display. As more of the building nears completion, more rooms will be available.
In the future, the gymnasium will be in use for special performances, or available for the public to rent for whatever they need. Seating up to 512 people, with a full stage and basketball court, almost any event would work in the versatile space.
“Cleaning it up, making it all a real economic option, and keeping it affordable,” is how Christie describes his vision. He’s not just referring to the studios, however, there are six more buildings on the property he’s tackling. The old “A” and “B” buildings are being converted into apartments, both efficiency and one-room options. As a former student, walking through the hallways with the cubbies and coat racks still in place, it sounds crazy. Yet Christie paints a picture that makes it easy to see how it will all play out. Vaulting the ceilings in each of the rooms is one of the first steps, which instantly makes the space more inviting and versatile. Preferring to leave the metal beams in each room intact, he describes the apartments as a “New York-style loft feel” for the final product. He wants people to be proud of where they live, and be able to really enjoy the space, while still not blowing the budget. Total, there will be 31 apartments, and be a haven for WVSOM students and locals alike.
The old cafeteria building, or “C” building, will be a business and office space, with conference rooms, an internet cafe, cubicle options, and places to gather. The old music building, or “D” building, he anticipates being used as medical office annexes, for example, a small dentist practice or medical extension office. The possibilities are endless.
The proximity of the campus to town, Hollowell Park, WVSOM, and everything else Lewisburg has to offer really makes the site a diamond in the rough. Not to mention the 110 parking spots, a precious commodity in the Lewisburg area. Those wanting a studio of their own are able to contact Christie at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep your eyes peeled for more updates as the project comes along and as art showings and events are announced.