Alice Cooper project soldiering on for Mesa kids The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Alice Cooper project soldiering on for Mesa kids

Alice Cooper project soldiering on for Mesa kids

By Henry Greenstein
Tribune Contributor

After months of delays, the new Mesa Teen Center from Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock is slated to open early next year.

The nonprofit is shooting for a late-January opening, said Randy Spencer, who runs community partnerships for Solid Rock. Prior to the pandemic, the center had been originally slated to open this fall.

The center will feature a wide array of programs, including lessons in art, music and dance housed in a building just off Country Club Drive and Main Street.

The Mesa Solid Rock space is 12,000 square feet compared to the existing Phoenix center’s 28,000 square feet but it will include numerous studios, rehearsal rooms and a performance stage, as well as a basketball court and “teen room” housing games like air hockey and ping pong.

Expanding to Mesa will be a substantial step forward for Solid Rock, which for eight years has operated in just one location in North Phoenix.

The nonprofit was founded in 1995 by the legendary Valley rocker and his wife Sheryl Cooper, a choreographer, and helps young people ages 12-20 explore careers in the arts through free lessons and classes.

“From the very beginning, our vision has been to have multiple teen centers, particularly in the Valley,” Spencer said. “We have received phone calls, pretty much from every city in the state of Arizona, since opening our first teen center.”

Marlo Loria, who heads career and technical education and innovative partnerships for Mesa Public Schools, said snagging the center involved a process that began at Alice Cooper’s annual golf tournament fundraiser.

There, the Solid Rock leadership team connected with top Mesa officials, including Mayor John Giles.

The courtship progressed and soon enough Mesa Public Schools was offering Solid Rock its choice of several vacant district buildings. Solid Rock ultimately signed a 19-year lease on what Loria called a “kind of clunky” building.

“I had another spot I thought that they would choose that was much nicer and kind of historic,” Loria said.

But Loria said the nonprofit’s leaders justified their choice.

“They were like, ‘No, that’s too nice for us. We want to take something and make it nice.’… You know, Alice Cooper’s all about rock and roll,” Loria said, “so I think the space is going to really match his persona.”

This past January, to cultivate interest, Solid Rock staged a surprise “special assembly” at nearby Westwood High School.

Katie Gardner, the school’s assistant principal for activities, coordinated the event, featuring a battle of the bands and a flash mob while keeping the news of Cooper’s visit closely guarded.

“I had quite a few teachers that were mad at me, because they taught math or Spanish or something else, and they’re like, ‘We didn’t even know he was on campus,’” Gardner recalled.

“And my kind of curt response was ‘Well, if it would have been about you, then you would have been invited, but it wasn’t. It’s about our kids who are in the arts.’”

Riley Baillie, 15, is one of those kids. The Westwood sophomore shot photos of the assembly as part of a career and technical education program.

After taking a guitar class in eighth grade, Riley, who is also an aspiring rapper, was searching for a “rock essence” that’s missing from Westwood’s curriculum.

“When you think of Alice Cooper, what do you think of? You think of a rock star. When you think of high school, you think ‘school,’” Riley said. “So I kind of was hopefully trying to get that place to escape, that place to rock out, that place to finally meet people.”

Gardner said the hype from the assembly has persisted even in the fraught months since.

She said students keep asking about the center’s new opening date and a dance program is thrilled with the prospect of a new performance space.

That’s significant, Gardner said, for a community possessing few “natural entry points” for teenagers interested in art.

Loria agreed and noted that Mesa’s schools serve some of the lowest- and highest-income families in Arizona.

“What a great opportunity for the two to blend and learn,” Loria said. “That’s what my hope is, that we’re getting these very diverse groups of kids together with this kind of common love for the arts and for music and for whatever it is that’s being provided there.”

Riley said he looks forward to the opportunity to explore the arts.

“At high school, they have [this] criteria they’re teaching,” he said. “And I feel at a center, you can ask and they’ll help you.”

Jake Baldwin, the newly appointed director of the Mesa Teen Center, said he’s ready to help.

“It’s really cool seeing people who need a friend or they need an outlet, they need a safe spot to go,” he said, “and to be that just for a few teens is a really amazing thing.”

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