St. Kateri dedicates early childhood center

Photo Kristin Schultz
A jovial Father Bob Longobucco addressed the audience at the blessing and dedication of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School's newly renovated Manuel Pena Early Childhood Education Center.Photo Kristin Schultz A jovial Father Bob Longobucco addressed the audience at the blessing and dedication of St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish School's newly renovated Manuel Pena Early Childhood Education Center.

NISKAYUNA — The little tykes at St. Kateri Tekawitha Parish School will have a building of their own, after the Catholic school on Upper Union Street dedicated its newly remodeled convent on June 21.

A handful of local government and church dignitaries were on hand for the event. After a series of short remarks thanking donors, planners and contractors, Edward Scharfenberger, Bishop of the Diocese of Albany, blessed the building and the newly restored statues on the front lawn. After the elementary school’s Glee Club sang a song, the building was opened and guests toured classrooms and enjoyed refreshments.

The Manuel Pena Early Childhood Education Center will house classrooms for 3- and 4-year-olds. In addition to a space designed to address the specific needs of preschoolers, the redesigned building will allow the teachers to more effectively collaborate.

“The space has been designed for the needs of younger children,” said Principal Tosha Grimmer. “There are bathrooms in every classroom to allow for more supervision, and the teachers will be all together, which allows them to collaborate. The design also allows for a playground specifically for the youngest children.”

Before the renovations, preschool was conducted in elementary classrooms scattered along different hallways, isolating teachers from one another and essentially requiring them to adapt spaces designed for bigger bodies.

Three years ago, the parish council decided to convert the building, which, up to that point, had housed a nonprofit organization.

“The parish council looked at what would be the best use of space for the whole church,” said Grimmer.

Construction began in 2014, with the project costing around $350,000.

Parishioners raised the funds themselves, with one member in particular, Manuel Pena, for whom the building is named, donating a “generous amount.”

“God has been wonderful to me,” said Pena, who has been a member of the parish for 25 years. “I wanted to share what God has given me.”

Pena’s granddaughter works in a Saratoga Springs early childhood facility.

The new building will benefit the elementary school’s kindergarten through fifth-grade classes, as well. The school’s non-core classes, like music and art, were previously taught in another building. Now that the early elementary students have moved out, those classes will have space in the main building.

Construction crews were able to save two of the stained glass windows from the former chapel and use them in one of the upstairs classrooms.

Nuns who used to reside at the convent also toured the space, recalling what each room used to be and commenting positively on the renovation.

Father Bob Longobucco thanked everyone who had been involved in the project, calling it a “labor of love.”

Grimmer said there will be another event in the fall, honoring the donor of the new playground equipment.