Volume 74, Number 28 | November 17 - 22, 2004

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

An extension is being built on W. 26th St. to expand the Hudson Guild’s space.

Chelsea settlement house renovation is at midpoint

By Albert Amateau

Visitors to the Hudson Guild’s main center on Nov. 4 needed a big dollop of imagination and a good guide to visualize the new John Lovejoy Elliott Center that will emerge on W. 26 St. early next year with the completion of the $7.8 million transformation project.

But Brian Saber, assistant executive director of the 109-year-old settlement house, provided the guidance and assisted the imagination of a photographer and reporter who came to see how the project was going at midpoint.

“We’re scheduled to have our opening ceremonies in February or early March but I expect we’ll be in the building and operating in January,” he told his visitors.

The center, which the New York City Housing Authority built nearly 40 years ago on the first two floors and the basement of a 12-story senior residence at 441 W. 26th St. in the Elliott-Chelsea development, is being completely rebuilt with new infrastructure including handicap-accessible elevators.

“We’ve spent $500,000 to make the entire building comply with A.D.A. [Americans With Disabilities Act] standards,” said Saber. The architectural design by Stephan Yablon & Associates is transforming the cramped 20,000 sq. ft. of institutional space into 33,000 sq. ft of an open and welcoming center. An extension on the 26th St. side will have about 3,000 sq. feet of usable community space on two floors. The ground floor will have entrances on 26th and 27th Sts. facing Chelsea Park.

Even half built, the difference between the old and the new is striking, with subtle curves replacing strict lines and angles. The Hudson Guild Theater is being entirely rebuilt with more comfortable but slightly fewer seats (94 instead of 104) and air conditioning with a mechanical system enclosed to isolate noise.

Indeed, soundproofing is a major undertaking in a center that serves preschool children, teenagers, adults and seniors.

Administrative offices are all moving to the second floor to smaller more efficient spaces, leaving more room for community activities. The mental health clinic, with rooms for family and children’s therapy will be on the first floor. The Guild’s kindergarten, on the second floor, was endowed by Emily Meschter and is named for the late Mary and Bresci Thompson. Mary was a teacher at the Guild who died 10 years ago and her husband Bresci, who first came to the Guild at the age of 4 and later became a member of the board of trustees, died last month at the age of 96.

The basement will have a refurbished full-size gym with new locker rooms, a lounge for youth and offices for the youth activities staff, all handicap accessible.

For the first 30 years or so, NYCHA, which has always had a special relationship with Hudson Guild, maintained the building. But in the past five years, the agency has had to cut back on maintenance because of shrinking budgets.

So the Guild’s fundraising campaign includes a maintenance endowment fund. Nevertheless, NYCHA will continue to maintain the exterior of the center and the agency has agreed to lease the space to the Guild for 25 years rent-free.

The groundbreaking ceremony was exactly a year ago, but NYCHA had to do asbestos and lead abatement, so the reconstruction actually began in July.

For the duration of construction all Guild activities were shifted to four other neighborhood locations: the Guild senior center at 119 Ninth Ave. in the Robert Fulton houses; the Guild education center on the south side of 26th St. across from the main center; the children’s center just west of the main center and the Guild’s Beacon program located in the city’s O. Henry Learning Center on W. 17th St. west of Eighth Ave.

“We’ll all be back at the new John Lovejoy Elliott Center by the end of January,” Saber said.

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