By Lindsay Eckert
Tribune lifestyle editor
— The grand opening of Bona Vista’s latest innovative approach to kid-friendly fun was more than anyone could imagine Wednesday afternoon. Magicians juggled magic in the air, a princess waltzed into a room of gowns, crowns and jewels, and robots took on lives of their own while kids snacked on cupcakes and candy. It all happened inside the walls of Bona Vista’s Imagine That! Innovation Center, a multi-room play facility that encourages child development, learning and lots of fun.
The process of transforming the 1800 S. Plate St. location into an imagination station for kids of Kokomo started in November 2012. Adria Snoddy, director of pediatric therapies for Bona Vista, said being able to see the kids’ reactions to the final product was better than she could have ever dreamed. Snoddy said the idea for Imagine That! Innovation Center is inspired by a play facility in Bloomington, where Snoddy took children she nannied while earning her degree at Indiana University.
“I’m so happy to see all the kids here and see how excited they are. I just saw a little boy totally freak out with excitement when he walked in and saw the magician,” Snoddy said. “It’s great to see something like this take off in Kokomo. Before this you had to drive an hour north or an hour south to find something like this. It’s great to have it right here in our community.”
Something like this includes: Five uniquely themed areas ranging from a princess-themed room to a robotics room. Plus, the brightly colored kid hangout invites room rentals for kids’ parties.
“There are different themes for different interests and abilities [of kids],” Snoddy said of the rooms, decorated and supplied by Bona Vista programs Kindergarten Readiness, Keys for Kids and Early Headstart. “This place was sitting empty. We came up with the idea. We took a trip to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum for ideas, and then we just really cranked this project out from there. We had great sponsors get involved, like our robotics team that put a room together. It’s a great place for kids to play, but it’s also a great way to showcase our local organizations.”
The robotics room drew in young curiosities; their little hands squeezed robotic controllers and pieced together robotic creations of their own. Alan Anderson, director of TechnoKats, said he and his group helped decorate the bright orange room with photos of history’s favorite robots and gadgets.
“We’ve put game controllers and old robotic pieces in here and different types of robots,” Anderson said as he pressure squeezed a robotic arm. “This one is controlled by air pressure, and we have a lot of interactive games for the kids too, this is a hands-on type of room.”
Little hands were most definitely in full gear as their excitement grew from room to room.
“I love all of the rooms, I cannot decide,” 5-year-old Caleb Taflinger said, his eyes darting to the dynamic corners of the Interactive Game Room.
The NASCAR and Lego room — which is home to three computer screens, each screen showing a race car driver’s different view of the track, and a multitude of racing games and stacks of Legos — was the hot spot for young men craving to feel the need for speed within the walls covered with race tracks and roadways.
Dylan Harrell, a kindergartner, said the room was highly ranked in places he’d like to go in Kokomo.
“It’s almost like my first favorite thing of everything in Kokomo,” Harrell said as he outlined the race tracks on the wall with his fingers. “It’s like really fun, and the most fun place for fun in Kokomo. It’s like Chuck E. Cheese, except it’s the coolest place I’ve seen. This room has three computer screens!”
Harrell’s excitement echoed through Imagine That! Innovation Center’s grand opening, where Indiana University Kokomo improv group, SumANTICS, was on hand to help in the fun. The group had volunteers dressed as Dora the Explorer, Sleeping Beauty and even someone on hand to paint kids’ faces.
All the activities really left an impact on Northwestern first-grader Evan Kearney.
“I’d come here a zillion times. It’s so awesome, and there’s a whole bunch of things to do,” Kearney happily said as he stuffed a handful of Nerds candy into his mouth.
Joanne DeMarco is Bona Vista’s 2-year-old classroom leader, but for the grand opening DeMarco was indulging in the royal treatment in the Princess Room.
“It’s so good to just see it all together and finished. It’s just amazing to see it and see how popular it’s going to be,” DeMarco said. “There are so many different opportunities here with all the different rooms, and people being able to rent the rooms at an affordable price. It’s going to be really, really popular for Kokomo.”
Snoddy said Imagine That! Innovation Center is open for rental and learning through Bona Vista programs right now, but expect more grand events in the future.
“We saw such feedback from our grand opening, we are looking into opening play times for kids to come in,” Snoddy said.