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GEC renovation project gets $750,000 boost

A major Bay Ridge non-profit institution that has long been in need of upgrades to its main building can now move forward with the construction work after State Sen. Andrew Gounardes secured $750,000 in state funding for the project.

The $750,000 was the final piece of the funding puzzle that will allow the Guild for Exceptional Children to renovate its headquarters at 260 68th St. The construction project will include upgrading an old elevator, modernizing heating and air-conditioning systems and making other adjustments to bring the two-story building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, GEC officials said.

The goal is to accommodate better clients who are senior citizens, according to Joseph Riley, the GEC’s executive director and CEO.

“This is work we have long needed,” Riley told the Home Reporter.

Under the current configuration of the building, many of the programs the GEC runs are located on the second floor. Several elderly clients have expressed concern about having to take an elevator or climb stairs to get to the classes and programs. The renovation will allow the GEC to move educational and recreational programs down to the ground floor to make accessibility easier for older clients.

State Sen. Andrew Gounardes said he was impressed with the artworks the GEC’s clients were creating during his visit.

The building hasn’t been renovated in 45 years, GEC officials said.

The GEC, which was founded in the late 1950s by a group of parents of developmentally disabled children, provides education, job training, housing, recreational activities and therapy to hundreds of clients and their families in several Brooklyn neighborhoods.

Roberta Lopez, a GEC client, said she is happy that the 68th Street building is finally getting a facelift. “I like this building but not so much. It needs work,” she told the Home Reporter.

The renovation project has been a long time coming, according to GEC officials.

The GEC had already received $1.85 million from the City Council and raised an additional $200,000 on its own, but was unable to proceed with the expensive renovation. “The project was stalled,” Riley said.

That is until Gounardes secured $750,000 in the 2019-2020 state budget. 

Gounardes, a Democrat who represents Bay Ridge and other communities in Southwest Brooklyn, visited the GEC on July 17 to make the big announcement. “I have good news for you guys. We were able to get money from the state to help with the renovations,” he told a group of clients, staff members and administrators.

The group cheered.

“The Guild for Exceptional Children is a beloved institution,” Gounardes later said in a statement. “Those of us who grew up in Bay Ridge have grown up deeply admiring and respecting their work. The GEC promotes equal rights and dignity for those with special needs so they can enjoy a great quality of life and reach their full potential, as every person deserves.”

Frank Sena, president of GEC’s Board of Directors, said the construction work will give clients and workers a big boost. “Our individuals and dedicated staff will finally have space appropriate to their needs,” he stated.

During his visit, Gounardes was given a tour of the building and made a stop at the GEC’s art studio to watch clients work on projects. He also sat with clients like Joann Sapia and Ajuwon Newton and heard from them about the GEC’s programs.

“We do a lot of things here,” Sapia told Gounardes.

Newton said the building renovation is important to the clients. “It needs to be updated. We have to be safe,” he said.

Board President Frank Sena (left) and Executive Director Joseph Riley (second from right) led GEC clients and staff members in thanking State Sen. Andrew Gounardes (center) for the funding.

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