GREENWICH, Conn. – Faced with the challenge of operating in a structure originally built to house a theater more than a century ago, the New York Branch of Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization recently kicked off a $1.5 million renovation of its headquarters building (“domivka”) in the heart of the Ukrainian Village in Manhattan.
While the beloved domivka continues to host Plast scouts and their families, it has grown weary. Its age and constant use are evident in inadequate rooms, deteriorating infrastructure, outdated systems and technology, inefficient use of space and shortfalls in meeting current building codes.
Additionally, given the large membership of the New York Branch of Plast, the domivka cannot accommodate all of its members during weekly meetings. For the past several years, older scouts have attended meetings separately and in different locations. Those parents whose children do meet in the domivka are often forced to stand in very crowded rooms and hallways while they wait for their children to finish their weekly activities.
“A renovated domivka is a must – for meetings, events and for enhancing our community,” said Natalia Sonevytsky, a senior member of Plast and a member of the New York Branch.
Laryssa Zielyk, another long-time member of the branch, said Plast’s success in New York City has come with the challenge of finding spots in the building where everyone can meet.
“Domivka continues to embrace large numbers,” Ms. Zielyk said. But during weekly meetings, “the building explodes with children.”
In an effort to address the situation and to ensure there is space for the organization as it grows, the New York Branch of Plast decided it was time to renovate the historic building. Many long-time members of the branch said the situation had become critical.
“Without our domivka I’m not sure Plast [in New York City] would still exist,” said branch member Ihor Dekajlo. It became increasingly evident that “we must have an updated place,” Mr. Dekajlo said.
As a result, the Plast New York Branch leadership decided to begin a major overhaul of the interior of the domivka. Plans include an industrial clean-up of the entire building, archiving valuable documents, wall reconstruction, the appropriation of a non-functioning elevator shaft space for more meeting rooms and outfitting the entire building with 21st-century technology. The renovation will also include a new HVAC system along with security and safety upgrades.
Meeting rooms will be increased from 8 to 15 to enable all scouts to gather in the domivka rather than being scattered in different locations. Additionally, parents and guests will benefit from two welcome centers (one on each floor), where they can meet, relax and enjoy a beverage or light snack at the new café.
The cost of the renovation is estimated to be $1.5 million. As part of the initial planning for the project, the Plast New York Branch secured competitive construction bids from four companies. The leadership of the Plast New York Branch said that the project estimate is based on firm costs for architectural, engineering, construction and design services along with acquisition of new furniture, electronics, security features, lighting, etc.
Initial steps have already been taken to clean and empty the building. Its interior has been gutted; only studs remain.
More than half of the total $1.5 million needed to finish the renovation has already been raised. Many members of the branch have said they are excited by the prospect of having a newly renovated building.
“I’m convinced this renovated domivka will attract more children and families to Plast in New York City,” said Iryna Hryhorowych, a senior Plast scout and long-time member of the branch.
As news of the renovation project spread through the community here, many adult members of the New York Branch of Plast reflected on the time they spent as children in the building. Other members noted the important role that both Plast and the domivka have played in their lives.
“Our domivka is more than just Plast; it’s a part of our community life,” said senior scout Sofika Zielyk.
Plast in New York City
That particular community of Plast in New York City began after World War II, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when thousands of Ukrainians traveled to the U.S. Those who settled in New York City immediately began to renew Ukrainian organizations which existed in Ukraine and in displaced persons camps in Germany, among them Plast.
The New York City Branch was established in 1949. Although members formed a branch, they did not yet have a building to call their own. At the start of the 1950s, branch leadership rented space in the current domivka building, located at the corner of 9th Street and Second Avenue in Manhattan.
Originally built as a theater in 1904, the building was turned into a commercial space in 1928. It housed businesses, a dance studio and even a billiard parlor. In 1954, a Ukrainian couple, Wolodymyr and Olha Darmochwal, opened the restaurant Veselka on the ground floor.
Recognizing the need for a permanent home, the leadership of the New York Branch of Plast purchased the building in 1964, and by 1968 its interior was rebuilt from a few very large rooms to multiple smaller rooms to better suit the growing organization’s needs.
Over nearly 70 years, multiple generations have passed through the domivka’s doors. Scouts gather for weekly meetings with counselors and peers to learn about Plast history and scouting. They develop lifelong friendships along the way.
“My years in domivka have given me a sense of self-worth. It is here where I learned the foundational principles of Plast and how to become a leader,” said senior scout and long-time branch member Lesia Magun.
In addition to weekly scout meetings, the building also welcomes a variety of community activities and events. It hosts visits from St. Nicholas, as well as film screenings, egg decorating lessons, dances and Christmas bazaars. Ballet and drama rehearsals as well as ballroom dancing classes in preparation for the annual Plast debutante ball have all been held in the building. It recently hosted celebrations of the 100-year Plast Jubilee and the 70-year anniversary of Plast in New York City. It has been both a place of learning and recreation.
“We liked playing ping pong in the very large third floor room,” said senior scout and branch member Andrij Lastowecky, recalling the time he spent in the building as a young scout. “Playing the drums was also popular.”
Another branch member, Olha Gnoj, also recalled her time in the building.
“If the walls could talk, they would describe our domivka as a place with interesting meetings, happy memories, wonderful friendships and a place where girls and boys could meet,” Ms. Gnoj said.
The domivka continues to play a large role in the daily life of its members, from “ptashata” (boys and girls under age 7) to their parents, from junior scouts to senior members who have been involved in Plast for decades.
“We loved preparing for competitions like Orlykiada in domivka,” said scout leader Adia Magun, referring to the yearly competition for Plast scouts age 11-18 that takes place at the Soyuzivka Heritage Center. “It provided a safe place for us to work together late on weeknights and have free reign to create what we thought was best for our projects.”
The New York Branch of Plast has also welcomed people from Ukraine who recently immigrated to the United States.
“I am very grateful for the ‘new wave’ of Ukrainians who add new perspectives and enrich our programs,” said Ms. Ferencevych.
Year after year, the domivka has welcomed families from all over the world who seek to educate their children in the Plast spirit and way of life. Over the past 15-20 years, the New York Branch of Plast has seen an influx of people arriving from Ukraine that have become members of our branch.
Many long-time members of the branch said they were excited to see the organization in New York thrive.
“I’m thrilled our domivka is full,” said senior scout Taras Ferencevych. “It’s fantastic this place exists and that so many children attend every week.”
And as the branch has grown, so too has the need for a renovated building that can accommodate the branch’s newest members.
For additional information or to view detailed plans with room layouts, readers may visit the website www.plastnyc.org. Donations to the renovation project can be made online at http://www.plastnyc.org/renovation, or by check payable to Plast Ukrainian Scouting Organization U.S.A. and sent to the following address: Lida Nolan, treasurer, 848 South Long Beach Ave., Freeport, NY, 11520.