PLAINFIELD, NJ — Phase II of the HOPES Early Childhood center was officially launched on Thursday following a ceremonial ribbon cutting. A large crowd of HOPES employees and board members, Plainfield city officials and administrators, and other supporters gathered outside for a flag raising and the singing of the anthem by HOPES Teacher's Assistant Roxanne Eure. The activities were then moved into the former armory.
The newly renovated 18,000-square-foot space located at East Seventh St. and Leland Ave. bears a new name, the “Ora Welch Early Childhood and Family Services Center,” in honor of the HOPES former CEO who pioneered the project. It is the largest private early childhood center in Plainfield.
The former armory now houses classrooms dedicated to infants and toddlers, administrative offices, fully operational kitchen facilities, a staff lounge and a gym/community space. A dedicated computer lab is also being considered.
Phase I was completed to include the adjacent garage on the property that was completed earlier this year; it has 12 classrooms, each 950-square-feet with individual bathrooms.
For many years the armory was considered for other programs after having sat vacant by the State. Plaintalker II reported in 2005 that the space was being considered as a new senior center, and at that time, the property was on the market for $1 million.
In the Fall of 2018, Plainfield's Zoning Board delivered a final decision on the HOPES application to expand its previously approved project that would increase the number of classrooms to house students, from 20 classrooms with 270 children and 76 staff members, to 26 classrooms with 362 children and 95 staff members.
Barbara Panas, Director and Master of Ceremonies in welcoming the audience to the campus, described the project as the biggest, boldest and craziest of which she has been a part. She mentioned that it was also a celebration of HOPES' 10-year anniversary of providing services in Plainfield.
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp commented that he first entered the former armory back in 1979 when he had hosted a party. Now, after the incredible work performed by HOPES, he said it is the type of facility that lays a foundation for early childhood that young people need in order to excel.
HOPES CEO Simona Ovanezian's dream came true, she said, since her involvement in 2011. “Our aim is to provide high quality services and that is what we have accomplished with this facility.” But she said it was not without obstacles that had to be overcome.
Joselyn Estevez-Vargas, Vice President of Early Childhood Services, explained that the search for a larger facility began after receiving a grant for a second HEADSTART program in Plainfield. Under the leadership of the former HOPES CEO, Ora Welch, the property was purchased in 2005.
Vargas also thanked the Plainfield Senior Citizens' sewing club whose members generously donated 50 handmade infant blankets to the center.
Adrian Melia, Architect from Minervini & Vandermark Architecture, who appeared before many planning and zoning boards to represent the project, described the adaptive reuse project where care was taken to retain a lot of the original features to become a facility where the children of Plainfield can spend their most critical years. Angel Cabrera, President at Arco Construction Group, oversaw the renovation and construction of this facility.
Evelyn Motley, OEC Director, Plainfield Early Childhood Division, talked about the positive partnership with HEADSTART that has been in place over ten years, and thanked HOPES for having the vision to bring the city's children into “a state-of-the-art facility.”
Ora Welch, for whom the campus was named, recalled that she began working in Plainfield in the early 1980's with the HEADSTART program, and she looked at every building in Plainfield before purchasing the armory that had to be approved by the NJ Assembly.
The playground was also named and dedicated to former employee Wayne Myers.
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