Hanini Construction of Newark has been awarded a $3 million contract from the Greater Newark Conservancy to transform a historic former synagogue on the campus of the Urban Environmental Center into a multipurpose educational facility.
The three-story, 15,800-square-foot building will be transformed over the next year into a large lecture hall/community space, environmental classrooms, a demonstration kitchen/laboratory, environmental exhibit galleries and meeting rooms.
"The addition of new classrooms, meeting space and more will enable the conservancy to provide additional programming to help improve the quality of life in New Jersey's urban communities and advance our mission in the areas of environmental education, community greening and gardening, job training and advocacy for environmental justice," said conservancy co-chair Hans J. Solmssen.
More than 24,000 school-age children have visited the outdoor teaching garden since it opened in 2004, engaging in hands-on learning and horticultural activities.
"A lot of the kids ask if they are still in Newark," said Robin L. Dougherty, executive director of the GNC. "The concept of being surrounded by nature is pretty foreign to most of the children."
Dougherty hopes the building's renovation will inspire additional donors to help with the expansion effort.
"Expanding our classroom space threefold will help us meet the state's curriculum standards in science, math, literacy and nutrition, and will allow us to raise more revenue in the future through program fees and facility rentals," she said.
Hanini Construction, a Newark-based developer, is noted for repurposing some of the city's historic properties including the Packard Lofts, the Columbian Building — now the home of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que — and the Hotel Indigo, opening this summer in the former National State Bank building.
"The contribution GNC has made to the community has been vital to Newark's growth," said Samer Hanini. "This project will help to continue their efforts, and we are very happy to be a part of it."
Oheb Shalom Congregation dedicated the Moorish revival structure as a synagogue in 1884 and it was used by its members until moving to High Street in 1911. GNC purchased the 1 ½-acre property and synagogue from the city in 1995.