The former Salem United Methodist Church (SUMC) in Tamaqua officially reopened its doors yesterday as the area's newest multipurpose center for music, arts, theater and education.

Last night's grand opening kickoff of the new Community Family Arts Center in downtown Tamaqua drew an enthusiastic crowd of visitors who were treated to a wide array of live music and song. Some visitors to the center, located at 125 Pine St., (SR309), could be seen tapping their feet, while others clapped their hands or snapped their fingers to the beats.

"This new center is a great community project that Tamaqua really needed. It will also provide local youth more after school options," said volunteer Rose Jean Zucuskie.

Micah Gursky, director of the new center and the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership (TACP), said, "It is very exciting to be able to provide live performances in downtown Tamaqua."

The TACP acquired the property on Veterans Day last year for $32,000 from the church, which had owned it since 1949. The historic building dates back to 1880 and still includes its original layout, stained glass windows and Eastlake woodwork.

"The TACP's goal is to develop a community driven center open to everyone that could serve as a performance venue, art studio, instructional workshop and other similar creative uses," said Gursky.

The property, which features three levels in the church building, also includes a rear adjoining two-unit apartment annex and an adjacent half-double home.

Center volunteer Jack Kulp, 62, a retired engineer and popular Tamaqua musician, said "The center's high ceilings and arches provide a perfect acoustic venue. That is an added treat to the project."

Another volunteer is Tamaqua musician, songwriter and photographer Kathy Rimm.

"Tamaqua needed more exposure of the arts and the community is coming together to make this project work," said Rimm.

"I'd love to see this community project grow. This is a great place to bring communities together. Definitely a great idea for Tamaqua," said center visitor Gene Babula.

"This place has a lot of potential for the community," said Robin Greeninger, who traveled all the way from Lebanon.

Faith Roberts, 12, and her brother Christopher, 14, both expressed their desire to help at the new center.

Also attending the grand opening yesterday were Sen. Dave Argall (R-29) and Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage Jr., who both said they were excited about the expected progress of the new center.

Argall recalled coming to the church years ago for holiday and special events.

"When Micah and I visited over 40 different projects across Pennsylvania a few years back, they all incorporated older components, such as churches," Argall said. "This center will serve as a great component for a healthy Tamaqua."

Halcovage stressed that arts are extremely important to the vitality of any community.

"The community of Tamaqua has stepped up to provide a meeting place for both communities and local talents to come together," said Halcovage.

Volunteer and Tamaqua Junior Honor Society member Jenny Beck, 13, Tamaqua, who was seen selling donation tickets, expressed her enthusiasm for the project.

"This is a great transformation that will provide many great things for Tamaqua and it's youth," she said.

"This was the best entertainment I've been to in a long time," added Donna Bieren, Tamaqua.

Visitor Melissa Emerich, 21, Tamaqua, who was baptized in the church, recalled when her grandmother, Ann Emerich, used to play the organ and piano there.

She remembers many simple things; like taking her shoes off and running around the carpet to get a shock when she touched the radiator.

"It was devastating when the church closed," said Emerich. "Although it makes it seem worth it, after seeing all these diverse and enthusiastic volunteers transform it into another place of enjoyment."