Expansion in Squirrel Hill excites Friendship Circle | TribLIVE.com
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Becca Friedman, left, 15, of Murrysville, plays with her buddy Barcha Daren, 12, of Squirrel Hill, while volunteering during the Friendship Circle's cooking club at the Yeshiva Girls School in Squirrel Hill on Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014.

Interior demolition of the former home of Gullifty’s restaurant in Squirrel Hill wrapped up this week as architects released renderings for the building’s new occupant, Friendship Circle.

“We really want to grow in this space,” Executive Director Rabbi Mordy Rudolph said.

Established by the city’s Jewish community in 2006, Friendship Circle staff and volunteers coordinate home visits and classes for roughly 140 children with special needs all over the city.

“Right now we rent space for everything we do — winter camps, holiday programs, Sunday circles, the bowling league, gymnastics club, cooking club,” Rudolph said. “It’s just a big strain on our staff to schlep all over the city, set it all up and take it all down.”

With the space, the program’s seven staff members, 30 program workers, 300 teen volunteers and 200 alumni will have a central meeting place for, if nothing else, friendly conversation.

Like its forebear, the 10,000 square feet of space will be anchored by a kitchen.

Activity will revolve around a first-floor kitchen and performance stage with ample space for clubs and lounging. The second floor will feature work pods, a play area for younger children, a lounge for parents, executive offices and conference space. Architects designed a garden and outdoor recreation space on the roof.

“We wanted to go beyond basic disability accommodations like an elevator and larger bathrooms,” said Stuart Horne, of Seigle Solow & Horne Architects. “This building is great, but it didn’t have a yard, so we’re making our own.”

Split between a greenhouse and play space, he said the roof will incorporate a retractable netting system for kids to play ball safely “without feeling like they’re in a giant play pen if they just want to hang out outside.”

Architects are seeking LEED certification for the project, Horne said. Rudolph estimated the cost at around $4 million, all funded by a $6 million capital campaign.

“More than anything, we wanted to create a casual space in a more convenient location for all our kids,” Rudolph said. “We’ve been operating about eight years, but the organization is really in its infancy.”

Construction will begin in earnest at the first of the year, he said. The two-story structure at 1922 Murray Ave. is scheduled to open in 2015.

Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach her at 412-388-5815 or [email protected].

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