Governor's School for the Arts
CLIENT: City of Norfolk
Norfolk, Virginia

The 100-year-old Monroe Building was designed by one of Norfolk’s most prominent archi­tects, John Kevan Peebles (1866 – 1934). The design follows that of the Chicago School of Architecture and is one of the few examples of this style that was erected in Norfolk. In the years since its construc­tion, the Monroe Building has housed several department stores, a shoe store, the J. J. Newberry Co., Inc., and the House of Worth women’s cloth­ing store. The upper floors were originally occupied by a number of Norfolk physicians, but later housed small offices and retail businesses.

The building got a new lease on life in 2011, when the Governor’s School for the Arts decided, after a comprehensive pre-planning study, to consoli­date its campus there. After years of neglect, the building’s top two floors had been condemned. There was water damage, rodents and pigeons, graffiti and vandalism, and asbestos.

Work to the 1915 building began in 2012 and included exterior repairs and complete interior renovations, including demolition and abatement of haz­ardous materials, configuration of spaces, preservation of historic material on the 5th and 6th floors, structural repairs, and some new and/or modified plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and fire-protection systems. The Gover­nor’s School for the Arts occupies 43,000 square feet with the remaining 10,000-square-foot portion occupied by the Virginia Stage Company as a dressing room and set-building area. Spaces include classrooms; computer lab; theatre (black box); offices, rehearsal spaces; dance studios; wood shop; painting, printmaking, and sculpture studios; and a small library.

Floor plan changes were designed to minimize the impact to the remaining historic fabric of the building. Historic skylights were reopened and new glass with metal structural framing was inserted. Many windows on the Monticello St. façade were enclosed during a previous renovation around 2000. They were uncovered and re­stored with new insulating glazing. Side elevation windows were reopened and repaired. On the Granby St. façade, modern storefront with curtain wall glass on a dark stone sill was installed. Upper windows were retained and repaired.

The historic stair at the front was retained and repaired. One elevator did not meet code requirements and was replaced, but the modern stair and elevator at the rear of the building were in fair condition and were reused. Doors on the Granby St. façade were replaced with compatible, contem­porary double-leaf glass storefront doors with a matching single-leaf com­mercial storefront door for access to upper floors. The rear doors were re­tained, cleaned, and repainted. Historic terrazzo flooring was retained and restored. New, contemporary tile, VCT, and carpet were installed in some areas. Bathrooms were retiled. Dance studios received sprung wood floors.

Historic woodwork was retained, restored, or replicated where missing. In some locations, glass was inserted in door frames to allow visual access into classrooms. Woodwork was primed, painted, or stained, as it was his­torically. New woodwork is contemporary, but compatible. Contemporary, compatible casework and lockers for storage were installed with no impact on historic features. The historic cornice on both the east and west façade was recreated from fiberglass based on early photographs.

“We love it. Now we’re more a part of the program. It really feels like a con­servatory now,” Andrea Warren, GSA Director, in the Virginian-Pilot.