WILLOWBROOK — A former isolation ward on Staten Island has been transformed into a new home for an autism organization.
The former building at Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Center and Home has been taken over by the GRACE Foundation, a nonprofit that holds classes and programs for children and adults on the autism spectrum.
"The opportunities for us in this building are endless," said Donna Long, executive director of the program, at the unveiling on Thursday. "We will be able to service so many more individuals impacted by autism."
Previously, the group worked from a small Westerleigh spot and could only have 150 people in the program. With the new space, Long hopes to expand that number to more than 400 people.
Long said the group also plans to expand its programs and add new ones, including a "life-skills" class.
The transformation from isolation ward to the GRACE Foundation's new home took nearly six years to complete, said Councilman Steven Matteo who worked on the project as then-Councilman James Oddo's chief of staff.
"We had to go through a lot of ups and down, starts and stops, but it is all certainly well worth it," Matteo said. "This is going to be a wonderful facility that the kids can call their home away from home."
The building was originally slated to become the new base for the Dr. Theodore Atlas Foundation, but after that group pulled out Oddo and Councilman Vincent Ignizio asked the GRACE Foundation to step in.
Workers gutted the inside of the building, removed asbestos and refurbished the inside with an allocated $3 million.
Both Matteo and Ignizio allocated $150,000 this year to the foundation for features including a parking lot and a greenhouse as part of the final step of its construction.
Oddo said it was surreal to finally stand in the center's new home and called it a "legacy project" for him, Ignizio and Matteo.
"Long after they have forgotten about us, this building will be here and there will be wonderful kids getting the services they need," Oddo said.