A decade-long vision to have Baltimore become the next hub of fashion and design will begin to take shape as construction begins at the old Lebow Clothing Factory, which beginning in fall 2013, will be the home of the Baltimore Design School.

City and education leaders gathered Monday to celebrate the official groundbreaking for the 120,000-square-foot building, which will begin undergoing a $25 million renovation to accommodate aspiring fashion artists in grades six through 12.

The school, co-founded by Baltimore state Sen. Catherine Pugh and Fred Lazarus, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art, is designed after the Baltimore School for the Arts and will focus on nonperformance arts like fashion, graphic design and architecture.

"We believe that we're going to be one of the greatest schools in the country," said Pugh, who has been advocating for a fashion school in Baltimore for 10 years.

The BDS was approved by the school district in January 2010 to operate as a transformation program serving grades six through 12. It opened in the fall with 150 sixth- and seventh-graders at the former Winston Middle School building in East Baltimore and will eventually expand to grade 12, with about 625 students, by 2016.

The school already has one of the longest waiting list in the city.

Looking for a nontraditional space, the school was drawn to the century-old Lebow Brothers plant on Oliver Street. The Lebow building has been on Pugh and Lazarus' radar as the ideal location for creative open space and a catalyst in Baltimore's thriving arts district.

The school will include art galleries, runways, studios, fabrication facilities, cutting-edge computer labs and classrooms. The former Lebow loading dock will be transformed into an outdoor fashion show space, and clothing and sewing machines retrieved from the building’s factory days will be featured in a permanent exhibition.

The city school system hopes that the school will not only serve as a hub for creative minds, but also as an example for creative financing.

The BDS was built as a result of public-private partnerships, and several sources of revenue, including developer funding, tax credits and private bonds. 

erica.green@baltsun.com

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