Wednesday 18 July 2007

€60m music school hits right note

IT seemed like an impossible dream for many years but Cork School of Music is ready to open the doors to a new €60 million future.

The building contract was completed this week and the keys have been handed over to Cork Institute of Technology (CIT).

The Department of Education’s partners on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) project, German company Hochtief, finished the work eight weeks ahead of schedule.

Staff now have time to move their equipment from hotels, halls and other venues across the city where classes have been held for the past six years.

The school will host its first lessons on September 10. Cork School of Music director Geoffrey Spratt could hardly believe he was showing people around for the first time yesterday.

“I really feel numb, having reached this stage. The design and development stage over the last 20 months was exciting but it’s just incredible to be in here finally,” he said.

The school will be the envy of music students and teachers around the country, with its:

* 56 lesson studios, each with a piano, 12 of them with two new Steinways.

* Two-storey Fleischmann Library, with panoramic city views.

* Dedicated studios for percussion, wind, strings.

* Two audio labs for training in music tech.

A movement room with sprung floors and full mirrored wall will be used by CIT’s first drama degree students, while the ground floor Stack Theatre has been designed with drama teaching in mind.

Another major facility is the school’s 48-track digital recording studio, with capacity for a 45-piece orchestra.

“There isn’t another studio like in Ireland and Hochtief can generate income from the studio during holidays. It will be to our advantage that we become known as a centre of excellence, as people will want to come to study here,” said Dr Spratt.

A centrepiece of the building on Union Quay is the Curtis Auditorium with seating for up to 450 people. Former student and acclaimed soprano Mary Hegarty, who will perform there in October, was overawed by the facilities yesterday.

“I was expecting something fantastic but this is just mind-blowing,” she said.

Hochtief will provide a full-time technician to maintain electric equipment and a full-time piano tuning technician. The company will also operate the ground floor restaurant and cafe, which may also be open to the public, and will be responsible for all aspects of the building unrelated to teaching.

Education Minister Mary Hanafin wished success to the 400 full-time and 2,000 part-time students who will benefit from the new facilities.

“For the first time ever, music and drama students from Cork and the whole southern region will have access to state-of-the-art specialised facilities on a single campus,” she said.

Cork School of Music: a brief history

* October 1999: Micheál Martin announces a €10 million extension to Cork School of Music (CSM) funded by Government as Public Private Partnership (PPP).

* Mid-2000: Plans upgraded to demolish existing building and construct new €60m school.

* April 2001: British company Jarvis wins deal to build and maintain the school for 25 years.

* August 2001: Cork City Council grants planning permission for project but An Taisce appeals decision.

* September 2001: Classes move to nearby Moore’s Hotel and more than 12 venues in the city.

* January 2002: An Bord Pleanála approves planning permission.

* Early 2003: Doubts emerge on funding, Government says EU rules on PPPs have changed.

* October 2003: CSM teachers take one-day industrial action over funding delays.

* February 2004: EU changes PPP rules blocking Government funding plan.

* March 2004: Education Minister Noel Dempsey announces work on a €60m development to begin in June or July.

* July 2004: Jarvis faces financial trouble.

* November 2004: German firm Hochtief takes over PPP element of Jarvis, Department of Education redraws contracts.

* September 2005: Contracts for €60 million development are signed. Sisk contractors start work.

* July 16, 2007: Work completed, CSM handed over to Department of Education and CIT.

* September 10, 2007: First lessons in new CSM.

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