Ryan's closed

Customers expecting to have lunch at Ryan’s at The Galleria in Richland Township are turned away by “Closed” signs and locked doors on Monday, May 9, 2016.

A nonprofit Montessori school whose local roots are traced back to an East Hills woman’s basement in the 1980s has found a new, larger home on Galleria Drive.

Ongoing growth in Richland Academy’s early education programs compelled the nonprofit to choose a new location for its infant-to-kindergarten school, and if all goes well, classes will begin there in September, Board President Elizabeth Watson said.

Construction is already underway to develop 7,500 square feet of education space inside the former Ryan’s buffet restaurant on Galleria Drive, she said.

“Over the last four years particularly, our infant and young toddler program has really expanded – and with our overall enrollment continuing to climb, we wanted a space that we weren’t going to outgrow again in five years,” Watson said.

Over the past several years, the tuition-based Richland Academy has been located at 136 Jaycee Drive, but previously occupied space on Budfield Street, among other areas.

Richland Academy follows a teaching method and philosophy developed in the early 1900s by Italian physician and educator Maria Montessori based on her scientific observation of children.

It relies on a child-centered approach and “carefully prepared learning environments” to engage children on physical, social, emotional and cognitive levels through activities they choose. The method is most frequently delivered to children during their earliest years, from birth to age 6, a period when children are often the most eager to learn.

Richland Academy was organized to serve children at that same age range, from infants through kindergarten.

Today, the school serves approximately 100 students from more than 70 families across the Johnstown region, Watson said.

For the first time in years, the learning center will have room to add on that total, rather than adding applicants to a waiting list, she added.

As planned, interactive rooms are being added for infants and toddlers, pre-primary students and the school’s child care enrollees. An outdoor playground area is also being added alongside the building, while the parking lot is getting a new surface, she said.

Work is expected to be complete by Sept. 1, according to Watson.

The Martella family owns the property and is looking to fill a remaining space inside the same building. Watson said efforts are being made to find a tenant that’s complimentary to their school.

The school is set to open at a time there’s been a flurry of new activity surrounding the Galleria Mall.

Primanti Bros. has announced plans to begin work this summer on a restaurant inside the nearby former Lone Star Steakhouse space.

Cernic’s has added a used cycle dealership inside a former Circuit City store near Gander Outdoors, and a sign posted at the longtime Ponderosa restaurant teases that a Japanese steakhouse is coming soon.

“With everything popping up nearby, we think we’ve found a great space for our students and families,” Watson said.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.