HeartShare Opens Home for Autistic Kids at Former Church Convent Site

February 16, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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Bensonhurst — A group home for autistic young people has opened at the site of the former St. Finbar Church convent on Bay 19th Street, bringing to fruition a long-held dream of Bill Guarinello, the president and CEO of HeartShare Human Services of New York.

HeartShare, the nonprofit social services agency, is the sponsor of the group home at 131 Bay 19th St.

Guarinello, whose agency offers a wide array of services to the developmentally disabled and their families, said he has always wanted to expand the programs HeartShare provides for children with autism spectrum disorders.

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The Bay 19th Street group home is located next door to the HeartShare School. The school, at 1825 Bath Ave., is housed in the site of the former St. Finbar Catholic School. The home will provide housing for seven males between the ages of 7 and 21. The residents will attend classes at the HeartShare School.

The group home is one of two facilities HeartShare has opened in recent months to provide educational and recreational services for autistic youngsters.

HeartShare is also going green, according to Guarinello, who said the Bay 19th Street group home is the first renovation project in New York City to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a leading environmental organization.

Early in the process, HeartShare administrators were committed to a project that was as environmentally conscious as possible and could meet the many requirements for achieving LEED for Homes Gold certification.

LEED certification provides independent, third-party verification that a building, home, or community has been designed and built using strategies aimed at achieving high performance in key areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, material selection and indoor environmental quality.

The building was constructed as a convent in 1964. In order to convert the building into a group home for children, the project involved a gut renovation of the building and its reconfiguration as a two-family residence.

There were many special efforts undertaken to achieve LEED for Homes Gold certification for the project, according to HeartShare officials. During renovation, numerous "green building" practices and energy-saving features were used to make the project a sustainable one that reduced the overall environmental footprint.

These included:

• Sorting and recycling demolition and construction waste to reduce the amount of material going into landfills;

• Using low-flow plumbing fixtures to reduce water consumption;

• Installing sprayed foam insulation, high-performance, low-E windows and ENERGY STAR cooling equipment, lighting and appliances to reduce energy consumption;

• Installing an energy-efficient gas boiler with a hot water feature, eliminating the need for a separate water heater;

• Installing efficient, high-performance ventilation to ensure optimum indoor air quality; and

• Planting drought-tolerant plants with mulching and trees for shade as part of the overall landscape design.

Guarinello said that while some of the green building efforts resulted in modest increased costs up front, the long-term benefits to HeartShare and its residents will include lower energy bills and a healthier indoor environment for years to come.

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