The dreams of Toronto's cultural community have taken flight with construction of a new opera house and ballet school facilities, two of the largest projects currently under construction in the Greater Toronto Area.
In an $87.5-million program called Project Grand Jete, the National Ballet School (NBS) is renovating and upgrading its academic and dance training facilities.
'Grand jete' is a ballet term meaning 'big leap'. It reflects what the project represents for both NBS and the North Jarvis neighbourhood in which it is located, explains project director Paul Sims.
NBS was founded in 1959. "It is located mostly in a complex of old buildings on Maitland Street ... joined together by an underground tunnel," Sims says. "Over the years, it built residences and studios in the backyards. It also built a theatre on Jarvis Street."
Rendering of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, to be completed in spring 2006.
Project Grand Jete has been in the works since 1993, when Canada Council determined the school's programs were excellent but its facilities were inadequate, Sims reports.
The first phase of construction involves the creation of dance studios and academic classrooms in the historic CBC Jarvis Street site. Work began last June and has included shoring, excavation, electrical work and underground drainage.
Construction of the curtain wall will begin soon and continue through August. Electricians, mechanical contractors and drywallers will be scheduled throughout the first phase, scheduled for completion by spring 2005.
The school's existing Maitland Street property will be completely renovated during the second phase of construction, creating an expanded and upgraded residence. It will include preservation of two heritage-listed buildings: Havergall College (1898) and Northfield House (1856), home of Sir Oliver Mowat, Ontario's longest-serving premier and a Father of Confederation.
Renovations to the Betty Oliphant Theatre on Jarvis Street, including new underground parking, will continue throughout both phases of construction.
Construction continues on the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which will
accommodate the Canadian Opera Company and the National Ballet of Canada.
Project Grand Jete, scheduled for completion in 2006, has offered unique challenges like repairs to historic foundations. NBS continues to offer classes throughout construction and remains a residence to more than 100 students.
Meanwhile, construction continues on the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts at the southeast corner of Queen Street and University Avenue. It will feature a traditional European horseshoe-shaped auditorium lined with resonant wood and plaster and will serve as the new opera house for the Canadian Opera Company and as a venue for The National Ballet of Canada.
On-site activities, such as shoring, excavation and site hoarding, began last April. The first structural concrete slab at the isolation level was poured at the end of January. It consisted of 100 tonnes of reinforcing steel and forms the outer edge of the auditorium and will support the acoustical bearing pads.
The horseshoe shape of the auditorium at the isolation level was formed in February. Isolation pads to shelter a hall from sound and noise vibration will soon be installed. Above-grade construction begins this spring.
The project is scheduled for completion in spring 2006. A huge variety of trades will be involved, including electricians, plumbers, brick masons, roofers, glaziers, painters, hardwood floor installers, seating installers, theatre equipment riggers and specialty technical trades.
It will also call for more specialized trades like wet plasterers, which are not widely available, reports project manager Darius Zaccack of PCL Construction.
He recognizes the demand on construction trades.
"Because this project is relatively long in duration ... we are hopeful that by working with the industry and the proper training that we can schedule and expect that the workforce is available and meet the requirements of the project."
Models of the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts are on display at Toronto City Hall, main rotunda, 100 Queen St. W., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily through to March 4.
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