By TOM LAVIS
Mark and Katie Spiker of Somerset debated whether they should send their 3-year-old daughter, Hazey, to preschool this year.
That is until they learned that the newly opened Laurel Arts Education and Dance Center at 601 Georgian Place in Somerset Township would offer Studio Kids, a private academic preschool similar to the one Katie Spiker attended when she was a child.
“I remember going to preschool at the Dressler Center (for the Arts) and enjoyed doing the artsy things such as music, working in clay and learning how to use colors when drawing,” she said.
“I want Hazey to develop the same love of art that I enjoyed.”
The Studio Kids program, which is offered two days a week, three hours a day, is one portion of the activities and classes offered at the state-of-the-art facility.
Three former stores at the shopping plaza were incorporated and transformed over the past six months into a facility that would be the envy of any community.
The public will have an opportunity to see the new facility during a grand opening from 4:30 to 8 p.m. Friday.
Dance and wellness classes have been held at the new center since Aug. 24.
Guided tours will be conducted by board and staff members during the grand opening.
The center’s instructional space features three dance studios, one art studio and two classrooms.
Additional space is used for an office, art and dance retail store, lobby, staff kitchen, break room and a maintenance storage area.
Michael Knecht, Laurel Arts executive director, said the new center has experienced impressive enrollment as dance-class registration reached 210, and the Studio Kids preschool also has reached the targeted enrollment goal in its first year.
Many Somerset County residents have used Laurel Arts as a springboard to instill the love of the arts into their families’ lives that many who attended in the past like Katie Spiker are introducing their own children to the new center.
Janie Leck-Grela, assistant director, said a preschool was conducted from 1979 through the late 1990s.
“It’s ironic that some of the these children are sitting in some of the same chairs their parents sat in when they were children,” she said.
“That was a privately run preschool that closed when the state implemented more stringent requirements on preschools and staffing.”
Studio Kids is licensed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and offers a program aligned to Somerset Area School District’s kindergarten curriculum.
“We are using the Reggio Emilia approach which calls for the integration of the arts as a tool for cognitive, linguistic and social development,” Knecht said.
“Multiple forms of the arts will be incorporated into the Laurel Arts curriculum.”
The teacher, Angela Fullard, has dual certification in early childhood education and elementary education.
She is assisted by Gayle Miller.
One of two classrooms is designated for the preschool, but features a removable wall between the two that offers the capability of doubling the space for special presentations or activities.
“By removing the wall, we can accommodate as many as 150 people if there were a lecture or similar presentation,” Knecht said.
The 9,250-square-foot center more than doubles Laurel Arts’ education and dance programs under one roof.
The facility now boasts three dance studios, each having mirrored walls, ballet barres and a sprung-wood floor system.
“These floors help mitigate impact of the knees, feet and hips of the dancers,” Leck-Grela said during a tour of the facility.
“One floor is finished in hardwood, which is ideal for tap dancing.”
The other two are covered with a marley-type vinyl surface to accommodate other forms of dancing, such as ballet, pointe, jazz, contemporary, lyrical and hip-hop.
The colorful, well-lit rooms are equipped with up-to-date sound systems.
“The walls of each studio have six inches of insulation to prevent interference from music being played in other studios at the same time,” Knecht said.
“The studios are painted red, blue and green, which eliminates any confusion when telling students where they should be for their lesson.”
A video monitoring system in each studio enables parents to watch lessons from the comfort of two lobby areas.
Many of the students began taking dance classes when they were preschoolers.
Sisters Alex Mitchell, 13, and Madi, 10, daughters of Darrell and Julie Mitchell of Hidden Valley, have taken classes at the former studio and find the new facility to their liking.
“The center is awesome,” Julie Mitchell said.
“The studios are completely open and students don’t have to worry about running into poles that were in the old facility.”
Alex Mitchell is a member of Laurel Arts Dance Co., while Madi Mitchell returned to classes after a four-year hiatus when she learned that hip-hop was being offered at the new center.
“The girls eagerly await the time for dance class,” Julie Mitchell said.
“So much so that when I have to dole out punishment to the girls, I threaten to take away an hour of their dance time because they love it so much.”
Leck-Grela said the center boasts some “tremendous” dance teachers.
“Four of our instructors have college degrees in dance and three studied at Laurel Arts when they were children,” she said.
“They started here, became professionals and returned to teach others.”
Art classes will be conducted in much larger spaces and will allow for a greater continuity of such classes as pottery, stained glass, yoga, pilates, drawing and painting.
“We will have four pottery wheels and two kilns,” Knecht said.
The center will conduct an open pottery studio that will enable people to try their hand at wheel throwing before committing to a class.
The sessions are from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays and cost about $8 an hour for nonmembers.
“We also offer a Paint a Pot studio, where anyone can buy a ceramic piece and paint it themselves,” Leck-Grela said.
“It can be anything from a bowl for dad at Father’s Day to any keepsake the person buys.”
The organization launched its two-year fund-raising campaign in March, and Knecht said the initiative is on target.
To date, Laurel Arts has received 44 gifts and pledges totaling $299,266 toward a goal of $1 million for the expansion campaign.
What: Grand opening.
Where: Laurel Arts Education and Dance Center, 601 Georgian Place, Somerset Township.
When: 4:30 to 8 p.m. Friday.
Information: 443-1835, or visit www.laurelarts.org.
By TOM LAVIS
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