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Former Louisville music college undergoing construction

A red brick building with widows trimmed in white and metal music notes affixed to it. Two men stand in the open doorway of the building speaking. One points inside the building.
Breya Jones
/
LPM
The historic Bourgard College of Music and Art is getting a chance to play a new tune as city planners and construction crews renovate the building to restore it for community use.

The Bourgard College of Music and Art has a long history in Louisville as a place where Black residents could go to get a music education. The city is trying to give the building a new life.

Caroline Bourgard moved her college of music and art to the building at 2503 W. Muhammad Ali Boulevard in 1927.

She envisioned the Bourgard College of Music and Art as a place where Black youth could get access to music and learn the craft.

When Bourgard founded the school, Jim Crow laws were in effect and prevented Black people from getting the same educational opportunities as white people.

It was the art school in the city to serve Black children and remained open until 2017.

The city took ownership of the college’s building in 2020 as it had begun to fall into disrepair. In 2021, then-Mayor Greg Fischer announced Louisville had received a $500,000 grant from the National Park Service to rehabilitate the building.

“What we've done at this point, we've redone the roof system, which is all new roofing, all new exterior, trim, all new soffit,” said Rico Williams, a development manager with Metro Government. “Everything is going back original, as it was from the original building standpoint”

Williams said the city is creating a space for community use.

Bernardo Caballero is a contractor with Lifestone Dynamics, which is doing the construction at Bourgard College.

“The first thing we want to do is secure the building itself [we] close everything that gives access to water, humidity, live animals,” Caballero said. “So there is no more humidity, any more or anything coming in that could keep damaging the building.”

Caballero said once the building is secure structurally sound and fully sealed, crews can begin working on the inside.

He said crews are currently working to restore the inside of the college, getting rid of the fixtures that are no longer feasible and keeping what they can.

A piano sits in the corner of an attic. There are windows to the left of it looking out into the front yard and street. Parts of the ceiling are falling exposing the structural parts of the building.
Office of Economic Development
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Louisville Metro Government
When going through the Bourgard College of Art and Music, crews and city planners wanted to preserve as much of the existing design and materials as possible.

A huge part of the renovation has been maintaining as much of the original look of the building as possible.

“If we have to replace any trim, you can see that we've replaced it with the new material that is exactly the same design,” Caballero said.

The building's existing design and purpose have guided both the construction process and plans for the building’s interior.

“There was a lot of that kind of flow, you could see some signs that there were different rooms that had different traces of different things,” said project’s architect Nate Hammitt.

Hammitt said the goal is to create a space that the communities can shape around their needs.

“It’s just to set up the people who are going to use it in the future for success [and] give them a lot of different ways they could use the property,” Hammitt explained.

As they’ve worked, crew members have found relics left from Bourgard’s past.

Old sheet music dating back to 1920 was found scattered around the building. The city will maintain items like that while plans are made for how to manage them in the future.

There were several pianos found scattered around the building, including a black upright Steinway.

Williams said the city has big plans for those.

“My thought process is we're going to use a local artist and that local artist is going to come in and create some artwork by deconstructing these pianos,” Williams said. “So we will take some of the keys and things like that and create some artwork.”

Williams said the Steinway will remain intact and become the centerpiece of the art installation.

A black Steinway piano with carvings of other instruments sits in a room.
Breya Jones
/
LPM
The functioning Steinway piano found at the school will be restored and used as a centerpiece for a larger art installation using other pianos found at the college.

For the people involved in the project, keeping as much as the original building’s character is paramount to their plans.

“I think it's real simple,” Williams said. “Just preservation of old existing units, buildings, and this keeping that presence of the past.”

They said that preservation is particularly important for buildings with a history like the Bourgard College of Music and Art.

“If you were Black in the 1930s, or whenever, you were excluded from going to another musical education [intuition],” Hammitt said. “To have some capability to touch that and feel the connection to generations of students who've been through years. You can't recreate that any other way.”

Crews hope to finish construction by the summer.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.