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Seton Hill breaks ground on $11 million dance and visual arts center

| Monday, July 29, 2013, 11:50 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania first lady Susan Corbett addresses attendees along with Seton Hill University Board of Trustees Chairwoman Michele Ridge at a ground-breaking ceremony for the university’s Dance and Visual Arts Center in downtown Greensburg.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Bibiana Boerio, who begins her role as Seton Hill’s interim president on Aug. 1, 2013 and Pennsylvania first lady Susan Corbett, along with performers from the Seton Hill University Dance Academy, toss confetti as part of a ground-breaking ceremony for the university’s Dance and Visual Arts Center in downtown Greensburg.

With showers of bright-colored confetti and the presence of current and past Pennsylvania first ladies, Seton Hill University officials broke ground Monday on an $11 million dance and visual arts center in downtown Greensburg.

As first lady Susan Corbett and former first lady Michele Ridge watched, students from the university's dance academy performed, tossing blue, red, green confetti onto a large drawing of the new center.

About 150 people attended the groundbreaking at the site at the corner of West Otterman Street and College Avenue.

“It was awesome,” dancer Megan Frydrych, 9, of Greensburg said of how university officials symbolized their groundbreaking. “It's nice to have a new building.”

“It was really cool and a great opportunity to have,” said dancer Julianne Zerbini, 10, of Greensburg.

Before the young students performed, six students in the university's dance program gracefully maneuvered and sprayed an adhesive to the building rendering so the confetti would stick.

“I think it was an awesome opportunity,” said dancer Rachael Kopetsky of Unity, who will be a junior in the fall. “It was really great to be able to celebrate the groundbreaking like this.”

The 46,000-square-foot center will house art and dance studios, classrooms, design labs, the Harlan Art Gallery, offices and other features.

The building will allow students studying visual arts and dance to learn under one roof, university officials said.

“It's a really great thing because we're always fighting for space right now,” Kopetsky said. “I think it's going to open doors.”

University officials hope to complete construction by fall 2014.

Ridge, chairwoman of the board of trustees, noted the building is part of a $75 million university expansion and renewal plan. Seton Hill's arts center opened in 2009 about a block away.

The visual arts center, the Palace Theatre and the university arts center create an “art corridor,” Ridge said.

“There's a lot of great things happening in Greensburg, and I'm pleased to be part of it,” Corbett said.

She noted tourism is Pennsylvania's No. 2 source of income.

“Arts, we know, is a key part of tourism,” she said. “It certainly makes our cities vibrant and successful.”

“I love groundbreakings,” Westmoreland County Commissioner Chairman Charles “Chuck” Anderson said. “Groundbreakings mean we're moving forward.”

Greensburg Mayor Ron Silvis said the city's ties to Seton Hill's expansion began more than a decade ago.

“I think it is a tremendous asset to the city,” he added.

About 125 students are enrolled in visual arts and dance studies, said Mary Ann Gawelek, university provost and dean of the faculty. The new building should increase the number of students enrolled in the program to 200 within five to seven years, she added.

The arts were part of the university's curriculum at its founding, said Catherine Meinert, provincial supervisor of Sisters of Charity of Seton Hill.

“So we're continuing the legacy,” she said.

The center will be built using private donations, taxpayer money and a loan.

Last week, county officials approved a loan of as much as $7 million for the university, noting the loan will not cost county taxpayers a dime. The state has earmarked up to $6 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program money for the project.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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