JOHNSTOWN - Lexington Center, which closed its longtime sheltered workshop at its North Perry Street building, is undergoing renovations at that building to transform it into a training center to integrate more of the disabled into public workplaces.
The large Lexington building at 465 N. Perry St. - previously the center's headquarters - is undergoing major renovations both inside and out. That work should be done by summer, officials said.
Lexington Center Director of Business and Community Development Wally Hart said Wednesday the center closed its longtime sheltered workshop at the building Oct. 1. The workshop was a sprawling area known for years as Lexington Industries. Disabled clients at Lexington were able to work there on various assembly contracts for products arranged by Lexington with the help of the state.
Lexington Center Director of Business and Community Development Wally Hart, left, looks on as a worker from Newkirk Excavating of Tribes Hill works on a new canopy area at the center’s Johnstown building Wednesday.
The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich
"The workshop no longer exists," Hart said.
He said the workshop was probably open for more than 40 years, starting about the time Paul Nigra began as the not-for-profit agency's first executive director. Nigra died March 12 of Lou Gehrig's disease.
Hart said the center felt it was time to update the North Perry Street building.
"The state's no longer interested in having people in sheltered workshops," Hart said. "They want to integrate them with employers in the community."
Hart said Lexington is doing two things simultaneously - renovating its building and incorporating more clients into area employment situations. He said Lexington received approval from the state to change its program.
"We looked at the workshop and realized the kinds of manufacturing done in our region doesn't use a whole lot of outside labor," Hart said.
He said Lexington created a "Good Neighbor Program," in which the former workshop and warehouse areas on North Perry Street will be turned into "program space" incorporating professional job and skills training. Offices will be created in part of the area.
Hart said Lexington clients will be incorporated more into local businesses. He said Lexington clients have begun to work at Universal Warehousing in Mayfield, as the first "enclave" the center is utilizing.
"We're working and trying to do business in their businesses," Hart said.
According to Lexington Director of Communications Terry A. Swierzowski, the Lexington Industries workshop provided employment opportunities for hundreds of adults that the center supported. The majority of the work was in manufacturing and production support for local businesses, she said. But Swierzowski said work opportunities dwindled for the up to 200 people.
She said the new Good Neighbor Program will provide structured, community involvement activities for a significant amount of Lexington individuals who were supported in the workshop. For workshop employees who were of retirement age, there are opportunities for them to move into Senior Day programming.
Swierzowski said for others formerly supported in the center workshop, the Good Neighbor Program will offer opportunities for those who have a desire to work and receive training through a new job shadowing program, which will help them see what jobs in the community look like.
"Many of our program participants have expressed an interest in working in retail, grocery stores, animal hospitals, nursing homes, as receptionists in an office setting, or in production facilities," Swierzowski said. "Through job training, these individuals will learn the soft and hard skills needed to help them become successful in employment - what is the appropriate dress for the job they are seeking, punctuality, people and customer service skills. In this program, they will be able to gain experience and training so that if they choose to, they can move into jobs in the community as they become available."
Hart didn't have an exact amount on money spent on the renovations, but he said less than $1 million worth of work is being done at the North Perry Street building. The main entrance is being moved to the east side of the building where the old Lexington Industries' loading docks used to be.
Hart said Egelston Contractors of Fultonville is doing renovations. Another company - Newkirk Excavating of Tribes Hill - was working this past week at the center in the area where a canopy will be installed for the new main entrance.
He said the decision to close the sheltered workshop was weighed carefully. With changes by the state and "sporadic" work everyday for the clients, the decision to close the workshop was made.
"It's been a very emotional decision after 42 years," Hart said.
Work at the building started on the outside with the former loading dock renovations, which Hart said should be done by March.
All the other internal renovations should be completed by the end of June, Hart said. More classroom and training areas will be created, he said.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org