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OPINION: cSpace King Edward transformation a Calgary success story

One of Calgary’s best urban development success stories is the transformation of the majestic, 1912 King Edward School (1721 – 29 Avenue SW).

It’s been restored into the modern, creative hub cSPACE (creative space) King Edward School. 

Declining enrolment at the school, located in the Marda Loop neighbourhood, resulted in its 2001 closure. It sat vacant for 11 years, before cSPACE (a City of Calgary organization) purchased the site. Plans were underway to convert it into a 47,000 square foot community hub and arts incubator.

The year prior, Reid Henry had been hired by the City of Calgary’s Calgary Arts Development Authority to look at the feasibility of converting the empty school into a place for artists’ studios for  writers, visual artists, performing arts groups and other creative individuals.  

He successfully piloted the idea of a shared artists’ space at the Billingsgate Seafood building in East Village, while working on the feasibility of the King Edward School.  He closed on the school site in early 2012 but it wasn’t until early 2017 that Phase one opened. Phase two opened later that year.

How the King Edward transformation was funded

The funding for the $34.5 million transformation was a complex mix of government, foundation, corporate and individual donations. The land on the east and west sides of the school was also sold to developers for $9.36 million (27 per cent of the total cost).

The result: the entire block was transformed from a school site to a mixed-use site with luxury condos to the west and a luxury seniors’ care facility to the east.  The design and scale of both the residences of King Edward and The Edward complement the school in scale, architecture and façade materials. It created a unique block where old meets new.

The Funding included:

• $6.67 million from the City of Calgary (19%)

• $5.33 million from the Province of Alberta (16%)

• $4.02 million from the Calgary Foundation (12%)

• $3.54 million from corporate and individual donations (10%)

• $2.50 million from the Government of Canada (7%)

• $3.10 million in secured financing from Royal Bank of Canada (9%)

‘A Really positive community’

Today, cSPACE King Edward is a “playground for creativity, community and collaboration,” reads its website. 

It’s home to 30+ artists and art groups, ranging from Sage Theatre to Making Treaty 7 Cultural Society and from NUR Films to The Alexandra Writers Centre Society. 

As well, there is “The Sandbox” a coworking space, hallway galleries and the Studio Theatre (a 138-seat multi-use theatre). They’re all available for rent.

It’s also home to Calgary’s Alberta Craft Council’s Gallery and Shop. That’s a great place to browse and shop for that unique gift. You can do it while enjoying Barrow Espresso and Tea, which also has some tasty baked goods.

Doug Driediger (Calgary muralist, painter and graphic artist), one of the original artists to get a studio, has found he space to be “a really positive community of like-minded professionals who are keen to encourage and support each other.

“Exhibitions, collaborations, good coffee times with other creatives reminds me of art college days.  I think they did a good job; the tone in the building is robust and progressive,” Driediger said.  

A place where communities mix

cSPACE is a great place to wander; not only to see the art and meet the artists, but to enjoy the grand ambiance of the building.  

They don’t build schools like this anymore.

The exterior sandstone façade was retained. Inside, all of the original door frames are still there, even some of the lockers. It’s definitely a step back in time.

A unique public artwork “Yesterday Today Tomorrow” by Caitland r.c. Brown, Wayne Garrett and Lane Shordee, is a “must-see” artwork, suspended from the ceiling of the grand entrance to the school. It consists of 150 suspended hourglasses, filled with sand crushed from the sandstone bricks collected onsite during renovations. The hourglasses flip at intervals from 1-minute to 12-hours creating a mysterious sense of time and place. 

cSPACE King Edward is not only an artist’s hub. It’s a community hub with a summer farmer’s market and a regular calendar of public events. 

If you are in the neighbourhood, you should check it out…or make it your destination one day.