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AUBURN — As ABC Cayuga revealed its nearly completed Play Space to donors Tuesday, children dashing past their knees to the next toy station, there was indeed some play.

One excitedly spun the captain's wheel on an almost life-sized fishing boat surfacing from the ocean-blue carpet. Another marveled at a miniature shopping cart overflowing with fake groceries.

And those were just the adults.

Their eyes wide and their grins fixed, Play Space board member Katie MacIntyre and Director Elizabeth Stilwell couldn't help taking in the realization of their work with childlike wonder.

"It's exactly what we imagined," MacIntyre said. "I'm so glad we're here."

Though the Play Space is still more than a month away from its May 5 grand opening, it has already begun welcoming children through the Early Head Start program. A soft opening will take place sometime in April. Then, the space will officially open the first Friday in May with a ribbon-cutting and the proclamation of a Day of Play from the city.

In the four months since ABC Cayuga revealed its plans for the Play Space in The Citizen, it has nailed down a few details in addition to all the colorful fixtures. An educational activity space for children ages birth to 6 and a social space for their parents, it will admit families of up to five for $5 and additional members for $1 each. Children must be accompanied by a parent or caregiver.

Stilwell said the 5,000-square-foot space's overall capacity will be about 40 people. Helping families there will be four play facilitators, who were led through their first training Thursday by Stilwell, a former director of the Early Childhood Center at Cornell University. There will always be two facilitators on hand at the Play Space, she said.

The facilitators come from diverse backgrounds — one ran her own child care business for 30 years, another has a degree in speech pathology — but enthusiasm for helping families binds them all.

"This is about really, really loving messy little toddlers running around," Stilwell said. "We're trying to create a culture where families feel welcome and supported."

For instance, she continued, Play Space facilitators may see a child building towers and suggest bridging them, or see a child running around and suggest they sit and try playing at a station.

Whichever way children use it, Stilwell said, the Play Space has been built by Roto Design, of Ohio, to support it. From the baskets of plastic zucchini and peppers on its farmers market counters to the wooden-looking couch cushions scattered across the floor, everything in the space is meant to support play — and, ABC Cayuga believes, the development that follows.

"This is not a place where we want to say 'no,'" Stilwell said. "So there's not a lot you can do wrong."

Roto's services were secured even before ABC Cayuga found a site for the Play Space in 63 Genesee St. Supported by the Allyn Foundation, the nonprofit has pursued the project for more than two years altogether. It is funding the Play Space's construction through a $430,000 capital campaign.

The titular part of the Play Space occupies the main floor of the building, where Marine Midland and then HSBC bank customers once made deposits and withdrawals within the concrete structure. The rest of ABC Cayuga's space includes arts and crafts stations, a kitchen with a refrigerator and dishwasher, an island counter with specialized seating for children and parents, and a coat room.

Building owner KyleCroft Development has also created a conference room where families can host birthday parties. Tuesday, it was set up for training for Child Care Solutions, which will also have an office alongside one shared by Stilwell and ABC Cayuga Executive Director Nancy Tehan.

Child Care Solutions' executive director, Lori Schakow, also sits on the board of ABC Cayuga. Offering families help finding child care, as well as training and other support for caregivers, the agency's presence at the Play Space will make it even more of a central hub for Cayuga County families, Tehan said.

"We're happy to have our little guys and girls in the center of the city," she said.


If you go

WHAT: ABC Cayuga's Play Space

WHEN: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 4 p.m. Sundays beginning sometime in April; grand opening will be held Friday, May 5

WHERE: 63 Genesee St., Auburn; parking available in rear lot at corner of Loop Road and North Street

COST: In April, first visits are free with registration. Admission after that is $5 per family of up to five people, with $1 per additional family member. Family memberships are $75 per year for unlimited visits for a family of up to five people. Sponsoring memberships are $100 per year for unlimited visits, and include a donation that will help support the cost of participation for families with limited resources. Play Space rental, birthday party reservations and special programming fees will be announced soon.

INFO: Call (315) 252-5541 or visit playspaceabc.com or facebook.com/abccayuga

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox.

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Features editor for The Citizen.