Charleston’s College of Building Arts Accepting Applications

Wed November 24, 2004 - Southeast Edition

CHARLESTON, SC (AP) The first applications from students who hope to become America’s new artisans are trickling into the American College of the Building Arts housed in Charleston’s 200-year-old jail.

What organizers say is the nation’s first four-year artisans college opens next summer allowing students to learn building techniques that have all but disappeared in the United States.

“We’re talking about artisanship,” said David AvRutick, president of the school formerly known as The School of the Building Arts.

“Our mission is to really raise the standard of professionalism for people who are in the building trades –– to bring that level of respect back up to that of artisanship,” he said. “If you look back in history, the people who built the magnificent buildings were treated on a par with doctors and lawyers.”

Fifteen years ago, when Hurricane Hugo smashed into Charleston’s antebellum homes and buildings, the master craftsmen who made repairs had to be brought in from Europe.

“Hurricane Hugo made it clear just how critical the need for building artisans are, not just in Charleston, but across the United States,” Nancy Hawk, chairwoman of the college’s board of directors, said during a ceremony announcing the school was accepting applications.

The college, licensed by the state Commission on Higher Education last summer, will offer associate and bachelor’s degrees. It will be highly selective, accepting only eight students in each of six majors in the first class.

When four classes are enrolled, the college will have 144 students and an 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

Students may major in architectural stone work, carpentry, masonry, ornamental iron work, flat and ornamental plastering and timber framing, the art of joining timbers without using metal fasteners.

Among the other courses they will take are English, math, economics, architecture, accounting and business management. Summer apprenticeships with master craftsmen in their majors also are required.

Applicants must demonstrate some skill in their chosen field, much as students audition at a music conservatory, AvRutick said.

“Our graduates will be working on historic properties that already exist but also on modern construction of buildings that should last for generations: education buildings, government buildings, religious structures and homes,” he added.

The school is looking for students who are “creative, industrious , bright and driven,” according to the college catalogue. Tuition is almost $20,000 a year, and the deadline for application is April 1.

“The reason someone comes here is because it is something they always have wanted to do,” AvRutick said. “We have had interest from people who have master’s degrees but who are dissatisfied with the track they have gone on and they have always wanted to be a carpenter or a stone carver.”

The college has received hundreds of inquiries, he said.

The school also has plans for a campus on James Island’s McLeod Plantation on a tract it is buying from the Historic Charleston Foundation.

Some local residents object to locating a college on the plantation, which was used as a hospital during the Civil War and once occupied by federal troops.

However, the zoning board and city council approved the plans, which protect the plantation house as well as slave cabins and a large field.

The college plans about 60,000 square feet of space in new, smaller structures away from existing buildings. The campus also will provide a walking path to a vista on the Wappoo Creek in an area where there is little water access.

The college has embarked on a $20 million fund-raising campaign, but it may be several years before it is operating at McLeod, AvRutick said.