COCA Celebrates Completion of New, Expanded Presence in University City

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By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE

The Center of Creative Arts (COCA) is inhabiting its new and renovated space as it prepares to restart classes in early September.

S. M. Wilson & Co. served as construction manager on the $37 million, 13,000-square-foot renovation and 47,000-square-foot new addition. Axi:Ome served as the design architect, and Christner as the architect of record. COCA’s existing facility was originally designed by renowned mid-century modern architect Erich Mendelsohn in 1950 as the B’nai Amoona synagogue. The building remains on the National Register of Historic Places.

Senior Project Manager Jordan Sanders said the company broke ground on the renovation of the existing Kuehner West Wing in January 2018 and completed it in June 2018, transforming the former theatre space into a state-of-the-art performance lab, two new dance studios, a renovated art and design space and a kitchen.

COCA’s new east wing, named after donors John and Alison Ferring, was completed in July 2020. It holds the 450-seat Catherine B. Berges Theatre, more than 8,000 square feet of new studio space, three dance studios plus community and administrative space.

“Our new auditorium’s acoustics are sophisticated and equipped to accommodate professional operas and symphony orchestras, yet warm and inviting to young voices,” said COCA Executive Director Kelly Pollock. “Since this is truly an introduction to creative arts for many young performers, we wanted to design and build a space that welcomes young talent and helps them grow accustomed to performing.”

The addition’s 50-foot-tall and 52-foot-tall masonry walls lend to the facility’s uniqueness, Sanders said. Eleven floor elevations comprise the new theatre space, he added, requiring a precise concrete pour sequence and multiple forming and shoring systems.

COCA partnered with Washington University in St. Louis to construct a 230-space parking garage located on the university campus adjacent to COCA. The two entities will share the structure, Pollock said.

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