For 105 years, BVRS has been a leader in programs and services for people of all ages who are blind, vision impaired or who have other disabilities. The organization fulfills its mission every year by serving more than 900 adults and teenagers through comprehensive rehabilitation, vocational and community service programs, and 14,000 children through the Children’s Vision Screening Program.
The majority of our programs and services are delivered through our headquarters location in Homestead, including adult and child vision assessments; computer training; employment services; home-based training; low vision rehabilitation; personal adjustment to blindness training; services for seniors; structured day programs; transportation; and vocational rehabilitation. At BVRS’ Industries Division, located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, more than 85 percent of our employees are blind and visually impaired. In addition to providing meaningful employment opportunities, the Industries Division generates an average of $125,000 annually in earned operating net revenue, which the agency reinvests in programs and services.
Recently, BVRS Board of Directors approved a plan to consolidate the organization’s two locations into a single, centralized location in the Uptown section of Pittsburgh. Although the consolidation will provide a significant cost savings for the agency in the long term, the primary rationale for the decision involves the benefits to our clients and employees. Our new home will be designed specifically to deliver services in a more efficient way with a “client-centric” and holistic approach. The five-story 87,000 square-foot headquarters building, and functional rooftop, will give us much more space in which to operate. By enhancing our current programming and adding additional services, we will be providing a “community” of support for our clients, which our research tells us will result in an increased demand.
One of the hallmark services of the new building is an expanded facility on the roof to provide adaptive training for our clients who are blind or visually impaired, some of whom may also experience cognitive impairment. The Rooftop Sensory Garden will provide a controlled environment where our Rehabilitation Teachers can help clients build confidence as they navigate the various travel scenarios, such as concrete sidewalks, grassy areas, and raised curbs before they face these environments in everyday life when going to work, to school, shopping, or simply enjoying the outdoors.
The Rooftop Sensory Garden will also feature sensory stimulating plants, fountains, bird feeders and other features such as wind chimes that will provide sensory opportunities for visually-impaired individuals and those experiencing cognitive or other challenges. The green space will also provide a safe place to exercise our staff and clients’ guide dogs.
Additionally, the new location is easily accessible by public transportation for our clients and employees. BVRS has already acquired the new building, and rehabilitation began in the summer 2014. The organization expects to occupy the new site by late summer 2015.
The total cost for the project, including the building purchase, is $15.7 million. This is a guaranteed maximum price number as per BVRS’ contract with A. Martini and Company, the construction manager. The project will be funded by: a $2.7 million fundraising campaign, to include gifts and grants from individuals, private foundations, corporations, and government; an investment of $4.3 million from the agency’s reserves and operating funds; and $6.5 million in long-term financing through PNC. The cost will be partially offset by $2.2 million in credits approved through the New Market Tax Credit program.
Through the New Beginnings capital campaign, BVRS is seeking support from individuals, businesses and corporations, charitable foundations, and government sources. To date, the campaign, which is still in the “silent” phase, has raised $1.9 million including a $200,000 grant from the Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund. The $1.5 million balance includes gifts and pledges of support from the board of directors, all of whom have pledged to the campaign; our employees, and charitable foundations.