Phase 2 begins on JCC's outdoor play space and classroom project

Published Monday, August 3, 2015
by JENNIFER CURRIER

Phase 2 begins on JCC's outdoor play space and classroom project

Community volunteers help start Phase 2 of a new outdoor education and play area at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center on Balltown Road. Here, Kathy, Nathan and Jim Levy work in the balance play area.
PHOTOGRAPHER: MARC SCHULTZ
Community volunteers help start Phase 2 of a new outdoor education and play area at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center on Balltown Road. Here, Kathy, Nathan and Jim Levy work in the balance play area.
 
Teachers, staff, parents, Boy Scouts and students gathered at the Schenectady Jewish Community Center on Sunday to work on an integrated outdoor education and play area for the center’s early childhood education program.

The project is one of many improvement initiatives the JCC is taking on to continue serving the community as the largest childcare provider in the Capital Region.

Phase 1 of the Teva Play Natural Outdoor Play Space and Classroom was built in September 2014 and used throughout the previous school year. The space includes a circle time area, a music wall, gardens organized by each season, outdoor easels for art projects, a maze, a water wall and a butterfly garden.

Work on Phase 2 began Sunday, and involved re-mulching and cleaning the existing play space and building a brand new “tyke track” located just outside it. Though the program serves children from birth through kindergarten-age, the track appeals most to the preschool-aged students.

JCC project

JCC project

The Schenectady Jewish Community Center Teva Play Natural Outdoor Play Space and Classroom received grants and donations from:

-- MVP Health Care Project Go!

-- Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region

-- JCC Early Childhood Education PTO

-- Stewart’s Holiday March

-- In memory: Past JCC President and Trustee Stanley Kivort

-- Several families and individuals associated with SJCC

-- Davey Tree Expert Company

-- Nfrastructure

“We’re always seeing what our kids’ needs are and making decisions from there,” said Early Childhood Assistant Director Sarah Mandel. “The idea came from the kids having to ride their tricycles around the cul-de-sac in the back of the center. Now they’ll have a dedicated space to safely do so.”

The track is a small loop volunteers dug out of the semi-circular lawn that skirts the SJCC. They leveled the dirt before laying one layer of a light fabric to deter weeds from growing. Then, they combed layers of stone dust around the area to make the surface of the track.

Early Childhood Director Andrea Leighton said the SJCC was selected for a grant from Ronald McDonald House Charities that has allowed the center to continue improving the outdoor space, particularly by funding a fence to enclose the track.

“It’s exciting to give the children more opportunities to be outside, exploring and playing in a different way,” she said.

Board of Directors member Kathy Ember Levy and her family built a kid-sized fueling station for the track, with one gas pump and an electric charging hookup.

Levy has been an instrumental part of seeing the project through, both as a former PTO president and a board member.

“We’ve been trying to get as much feedback as possible as we work to see our campus master plan completed,” she said. “Between the teachers, parents and staff, we’ve been lucky to have people be dedicated to this project and use the space in great ways.”

Executive Director Mark Weintraub said in the last year, the new spaces have proved to be an essential part of the early childhood program.

“When they build the curriculum, these spaces are incorporated into what the children learn, so it’s really an active extension of what we’re doing inside our program,” he said.

The outdoor improvements are only some of the projects the SJCC is taking on to bring the community together.

Sitting on 25 acres of land, the SJCC serves hundreds of students every day through its various youth programs. It also has many locals who pay for memberships to use the facilities.

“The early childhood program is only half of what we do,” Weintraub said. ”We have a huge operation, so we spend a lot of time retooling and doing internal work. We reinvest in the center to make the improvements people in our community really like to see.”

Most recently, the indoor pool and jacuzzi area was renovated and repainted to feature bright blues, yellows and reds. Weintraub said the work is part of the center’s Capital Capabilities project, aimed to enlighten the abled community about people with disabilities.

Soon, a mural painted by 33 artists with disabilities will be hung in the pool area. The colors in the painting are coordinated with the new colors of the pool area. Living Resources, a local organization that also works with people with disabilities, brought the project together.

Additionally, the center was the recipient of a state grant secured by Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie: $125,000 for capital upgrades.

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