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AUBURN — Thanks to the support of a major Cayuga County employer, the E. John Gavras Center is advancing the construction of a new playground as part of the agency's $1.5 million capital campaign. 

Nucor Steel Auburn donated $75,000 to support the construction of the new playground, which will replace the facility's 30-year-old equipment that has been removed. Employees from the plant will assist with the construction of the new playground. 

"Today is a special day," said Danielle Wright, executive director and CEO of the Gavras Center. 

Gavras launched its capital campaign in January at a dinner headlined by former Buffalo Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. The large renovation project will include expanded classrooms, a wrap-around day-care service, a full-day preschool with four additional classrooms for special needs children and a state-of-the-art motor skills center. 

The center is inching closer to its fundraising goal. Matthew Chadderdon, a spokesman for Gavras, said the facility is about $300,000 short of its $1.5 million target. A direct mail campaign is being planned to help raise the remaining amount. 

Some of the renovations are already in progress. Robert Padula, chairman of the Gavras Center board, said interior renovations are "well underway." Crews are finishing the installation of a new roof. There are also modifications planned to improve the facility's curb appeal, he said. 

The playground, though, is the first visible renovation at the center. The playground build kicked off Friday with volunteers from the community. The work began at 11:30 a.m. Construction will resume at 8 a.m. Saturday. Volunteers are invited to help build the playground. Participants must be at least 16 years old with parental consent. Food and refreshments will be provided. 

Gordon Elwell, an environmental manager at Nucor Steel Auburn, presented a ceremonial $75,000 check to Wright. He said the donation and the employees who are volunteering their services are part of the company's ongoing support in the community. 

"Projects like this will build a better future for us all," he said. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.