Just about everyone associated with the Gerard Place Community Center offered the same reaction Monday as officials snipped the ribbon at the gleaming facility hewn from the former St. Gerard Parish Hall on Bailey Avenue.
“You should have seen this place before,” said more than one attendee at the grand opening.
A host of elected officials and social services representatives gathered in the refurbished landmark to celebrate completion of a $6 million renovation. Though in service since 12 communities of Catholic women began counseling residents in 2000, the new center represents a renewed commitment to the building as a headquarters for education, child care and job skills training, while also serving as a neighborhood anchor.
“This is about transforming an entire neighborhood in the City of Buffalo,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. “Today is a great opportunity to show how far we’ve come.”
Hochul was joined by Rep. Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron W. Brown, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes and Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy for the official opening, which included $1.75 million in state funding from the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council.
The building still bears century-old signs of being a parish center, including a refurbished motto above the stage — “Praise the Lord on cymbals of joy” — in an auditorium set up for a community dinner Monday evening.
“I see a beautiful, vibrant facility,” Higgins said. “It’s just an amazing transformation.”
Partnering with several Buffalo schools, including Erie 1 BOCES and the Buffalo Public Schools, Gerard Place trains area residents in nursing, home health care, child care, and culinary arts. In addition to education partnerships, a daycare managed by Edu-Kids, the Buffalo Promise Neighborhood Children’s Academy at Gerard Place, is open for children aged 6 weeks to 4.5 years.
Peoples-Stokes noted that when she first saw the ancient and deteriorated St. Gerard’s Parish Hall several years ago, she euphemistically pronounced it “a challenge” to make it an acceptable headquarters for so many programs.
“But every challenge at St. Gerard has been met, and as a result, people's lives will change,” she said. “It’s an opportunity for people to be contributing citizens.”
David Zapfel, the center’s president, said the facility was slated to host 50 people for dinner Monday night and many future nights too, thanking the women religious of the past and present.
“We stand on the shoulders of the religious sisters who came before,” he said.
Kate Masiello, representing the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, recalled the old center and its rotting floors and dilapidated stairs.
“Where the training will take place was not fit for man nor beast,” she said. “Now we have families here, and a generational impact.”
Others helping to finance the new center include the state Dormitory Authority, M&T Bank, KeyBank, Delaware North, First Niagara Foundation, Garman Family Foundation, Statler Foundation, Oishei Foundation, East Hill Foundation, the William G. McGowan Foundation and the Daughters of Charity.