Conservatory of Music needs new home after Alberta College sale

· The Pulse

MacEwan University is seeking a new home for its Conservatory of Music following the sale of the Alberta College building that now houses it.

"We're in discussions with the Winspear Centre (for) Music to take the programming and operations of the conservatory," Lisa Rochman, dean of the School of Continuing Education, told Taproot. "Over the next two years, we're going to have more information about what this looks like."

Edmonton Public Schools recently celebrated its purchase of the Alberta College building, which it finalized in May for about $22 million following a lease agreement that began in 2019. Centre High students have been attending classes there since 2020, with the conservatory continuing to operate on the fourth and fifth levels.

The school board has given the conservatory until summer of 2025 to find a new home. Though MacEwan has made efforts to consolidate its offerings at its main campus in the past, Rochman said Allard Hall is a less-than-ideal home for the conservatory.

"It's a beautiful space, but it's not suited towards the way the conservatory runs with the individualized instructional model," she said. "I'm not a person who will ever say anything is completely off the table, but that is not the plan. We are in great talks with the Winspear and that is what we are looking forward to moving forward with."

Rochman said it's too soon to get into the specifics of how running the conservatory at the Winspear Centre would work, if it happens. The Winspear Expansion Project is still underway, and while discussions are ongoing, there aren't "a lot of firm details" yet, a representative of the Winspear Centre told Taproot in an email. The expansion is optimistically slated for late 2025, "contingent on a number of details," the spokesperson added.

Elizabeth Raycroft, a conservatory instructor, is disappointed by the department's impending eviction.

"I think it's a horrific shame that we lose a building that was purpose-built for music education," she said in an interview. "There has been, amongst teachers, a sadness, a distress that we weren't listened to and that we're not being given any really viable options."

The facade of a brick building reading "MacEwan University" with parking signs and cars parked along the street.

MacEwan University's Conservatory of Music must leave its longtime home in the Alberta College building by the summer of 2025. A new home has yet to be confirmed, but the university is in talks with the Winspear Centre to move the program there. (MacEwan University)

Rochman, who assumed her post in June, couldn't confirm whether conservatory instructors were consulted before the building's sale but said consultation about a move has been robust.

"We have been working to keep the instructors at the conservatory well-informed and engaged as we work to find them a new home, and we will continue to do so," she said. "I think my second day on the job there was a town hall that we held with the instructors to inform them (about the option to move to Winspear)."

Raycroft is concerned that there may not be sufficient teaching studios — if any — available at the Winspear. Rochman said it's too soon to form site-specific concerns because plans are still underway.

Raycroft also expressed concerns that the school board's planned renovations to the Alberta College building will destroy unique facilities and erode the legacy of the conservatory, which has operated in Edmonton since 1903 and has been housed in the building since 1993. Dan Sutherland, another conservatory instructor, expressed similar concerns in a letter to the Edmonton Journal published on March 2.

"Collateral damage will occur with the eviction of the Alberta College Conservatory of Music," he wrote. "Converting the conservatory space to classrooms will be a major undertaking, destroying a musical education jewel."

Rochman, however, has an optimistic view of the future of both the historic building and the conservatory.

"The history and the legacy of the building is education. And with EPSB taking it over, they're continuing that legacy," she said. "I'm confident that the future of the conservatory will continue to be an incredible place to learn and play music."