Rochester Childfirst Network has been serving the children of Rochester New York and the surrounding area since 1857. To provide some context as to how long that has been, the American Civil War began in 1861, four years after R.C.N. began their mission to care for children in Rochester.
Over the years RCN has changed with the needs of the community, beginning as an organization aimed at addressing the dire needs of orphaned, poverty stricken, and homeless children with vocational schooling, which were commonplace issues of the late Victorian age continuing into the industrial revolution. Today the group has transitioned to offering community based early education and care programs on their South Avenue campus in downtown Rochester.
RCN’s mission centers on not-for-profit advocation at local, state, and national levels for early education and care practices for all children with a guiding vision that every child should grow up safe, strong, and able to achieve their full potential.
They provide a safe place for local children to play, learn, and thrive with early education programs for young children, support for school-aged children with homework help and access to technology, as well as healthy complementary snacks and lunches prepared on site for children ranging in age from 6 weeks old to 12 years year-round.
The RCN school sits on a four-acre plot, much of which remains highly naturalized, in the urban South Wedge neighborhood of Rochester. The grounds feature newly designed, age-appropriate playgrounds aimed at promoting educational immersion in nature and inclusive play with a focus on sustainability.
New Energy Works, in donation partnership with Broccolo Tree & Lawn Care, IDEX Health & Science, and Barton & Loguidice, provided a timber pavilion that anchors the back outdoor space and meets the vision RCN has for a sustainable future through childhood education as part of a multi-year renovation plan.
"RCN has a really incredible site, being right in the city of Rochester—yet they have four acres, some of which is still highly naturalized and has a lot of habitat value,” says Thomas M. Robinson, P.L.A. Senior Managing Landscape Architect Barton & Loguidice, who was the designer for most of RCN’s natural play spaces. “The overarching goal here was to create these play and learning zones that encourage inclusive play, exploration and really a diversity of nature based activities for kids of all ages and mobility levels. The overall site design and the way the pavilion fits into that are key features for RCN.”
The timber frame pavilion project was really a labor of love for the children of the greater Rochester area. Imagined as a quite space for learning about and enjoying nature. The green roof and rain barrels integrate the timber structure into the existing landscape as part of a larger initiative to replace traditional plastic playgrounds with natural, environmentally friendly play structures—trike paths, climbing stones, and rain gardens surround the space and invite curiosity.
A contemplative area further from the traditional classrooms, the pavilion houses many outdoor STEM education programs offered throughout the year, the pavilion is also an RCN community gathering space to enjoy nature while hosting meetings, events, and other gatherings at this urban school.
“This pavilion is kind of the center piece of what we have done in our backyard over the past five years. We have spent over half a million dollars taking out traditional plastic play areas & climbers and putting in really environmentally friendly pieces,” says Jeff Hoffman Director of Development, R.C.N. Rochester Childfirst Network.
"Our thanks to the New Energy Works team who donated their time & talent to make this pavilion happen. I was not expecting that it would happen in a day,” shared Hoffman. “I though your team would be here for a week or two, but it was the day before Thanksgiving, it was snowing, and I am asking myself; how are they going to get this done in ONE day? But you did, and it’s now a favorite place here.”