Christchurch School of Music chose to build in performing arts precinct

After years of a nomadic existence, the Christchurch School of Music (CSM) hopes to build a $15 million new facility in the city’s performing arts precinct.

The school, which teaches music and runs orchestras and bands for 1100 mostly school-age students, has been chosen by the city council as its preferred occupant for one of the precinct’s last remaining sites.

Since losing its previous home when the earthquakes wrecked the Music Center of Christchurch, the CSM has leased space in multiple places including schools and warehouses. It now operates temporarily from Avonhead Primary School.

CSM director Celia Stewart said they were very keen to get back to the central city “as soon as possible”, to make it more accessible for students across the city. The new building would be a community music education hub, which they hoped to make available to other groups, she said.

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CSM music director Celia Stewart says they'll need to raise money for the project.


CSM music director Celia Stewart says they’ll need to raise money for the project.

“We are very excited – it looks as though it is going to happen.”

The land is on Armagh St between The Piano music venue and the Crowne Plaza hotel, backing onto the new Court Theater site.

Now owned by the city council, the site was originally bought by the Crown as part of a city block to establish the performing arts precinct as part of the rebuild.

The school has already designed an 11m-high, double storey building for the site, but Stewart said the plan was “fluid” and some aspects may change.

City councillors, in a public-excluded portion of their last full council meeting, chose the proposal out of five that council staff received after asking for expressions of interest.

The CSM hopes to build a $15m facility on this Armagh St site, which is part of the performing arts precinct.


The CSM hopes to build a $15m facility on this Armagh St site, which is part of the performing arts precinct.

The council sought proposals for performing arts uses that were financially sound, and would attract life and vitality to the area.

Bruce Rendall, the council’s head of sustainable city growth and property, said they were committed to working with the CSM “to further develop a proposal for a music education center.”

“The proposal is at a preliminary stage, and requires further development before going out for public consultation,” he said.

In the meantime, the CSM has obtained resource consent for the project, which Stewart said was done to help with a planned fundraising campaign.

“Of course, we’re not for profit, so we’ll need to raise an enormous amount of money.”

Stewart said the new building would attract large numbers of young people to the area, and would work well with the arts performance facilities around it. Nearby venues include The Piano, the Isaac Theater Royal, the Christchurch Town Hall, and the yet-to-be-built Court Theater and new Catholic Cathedral.

The Christchurch School of Music has had multiple homes since the earthquakes.


The Christchurch School of Music has had multiple homes since the earthquakes.

“We have made a commitment that with our new building, we will activate the space.”

She stressed that it would be a teaching and rehearsal space, and would not duplicate the performance facilities in other parts of the performing arts precinct.

The brick, timber and panel clad building has been designed with a double-height foyer and orchestral practice hall, with meeting rooms, ensemble rooms and classrooms on both levels.

It would enable them to expand the programs the school offers, Stewart said. It now teaches ages ranging from pre-school to adult.

Timing would depend on funds, “but it would be fantastic if we could finish it at the same time as the Court Theatre, at the end of 2024”.

The building would be the first purpose-built facility for the school, which began in 1955.

“We’ve always struggled for the space, and we are paying massive rent for the spaces we use. That’s money we could be using for our own programs,” Stewart said.

The new building’s hall would have a flat floor and orchestra and audience seating areas with an upper gallery. While intended mostly for CSM use, it would also be available for other groups to use for the performing arts such as acting or dancing, and for conferences and functions.


With the Christchurch City Council approving the plans for the Court Theater to join the performing arts precinct, the Court Theater artistic director Ross Gumbley is excited for the future. (Video first published in July 2018)

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