Children’s Aid parents might try to buy building

By Albert Amateau

Community Board 2 has unanimously called on the Children’s Aid Society to condition the sale of its Greenwich Village buildings so that any new owner would preserve the society’s early-childhood and community programs on Sullivan St. at least until June 2012.

The Jan. 29 resolution, which closely resembles a proposal by SAVE (Save a Village Education), a group of parents involved in the society’s preschool program, also urges Children’s Aid to make a commitment to keep current teachers and staff in place on Sullivan St. until June 2012.

Saving the highly esteemed program is especially urgent for parents of more than 400 children, ages 2 to 4, who attend the society’s nursery classes in the Village — the largest nursery school in Manhattan — because school contracts and deposit requirements must be made by Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, a Feb. 1 hearing on a lawsuit filed by the mother of a 2-year-old in the program demanding that Children’s Aid guarantee that the preschool would remain open on Sullivan St. through June 2013 has been canceled.

The hearing in the suit by Viviane Bromberg, represented by her lawyer, Luke McGrath, who is also her husband, was canceled to give attorneys on both sides more time to discuss a possible settlement.

“We really want to talk with Children’s Aid about ways to keep the early-childhood center and the other programs on Sullivan St. for good after the property is sold,” said Keen Berger, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Social Services and Education Committee.

At a Jan. 18 committee meeting, a Children’s Aid executive told parents and community board members that she could not speak about plans to sell the property because of the pending lawsuit.

The society, which opened its Sullivan St. center in 1892 and started its early-childhood center there more than 20 years ago, was founded more than 150 years ago to serve the city’s poor children.

On Nov. 30, Richard Buery, Jr., C.A.S. executive director, told parents the society was considering selling its property at 219 Sullivan St. and at 175-177 Sullivan St. and closing the programs by June 2012 because a presence in the relatively rich neighborhood of the Village was not in keeping with the society mission to serve children in poverty.

On Dec. 16, the C.A.S. board of trustees confirmed its intention to sell the Village property, known as the Philip Coltoff Center. Although the society said it would maintain its programs in the Village until June 2012, it added that the programs might move to “a comparable location” in Manhattan if the Village center were sold earlier than expected.

But Heather Campbell, a member of SAVE with two children in the Coltoff center, told the Jan. 18 committee meeting, “We don’t know if they might move the school to 34th St. and Fifth Ave.; it would be a hardship for many parents who have children in other Village schools. ‘A comparable location’ is a big caveat,” Campbell said.

“It would be like the YMCA saying it would be packing up and leaving the neighborhood,” said Robert E. Lee, a SAVE member and parent of a child at the Sullivan St. center.

Campbell said SAVE is working to put a bid together to buy the property from Children’s Aid. But the group wants the society to give it a preference — in case the group is not the high bidder. SAVE is also asking the society to help finance community acquisition of the property.

“It’s a wonderful program in a functioning school. It would be a pity to tear it down to make way for a condo,” said Alexandra Van Schie, a member of the early-childhood center’s parents committee.

Berger reminded the Jan. 18 meeting that the Village, whose schools are severely overcrowded, needs more educational opportunities for a booming population of school-age children.

C.A.S. has 75 other centers in the five boroughs, including one on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

“There’s not much poverty on the Upper East Side,” said one neighbor who attended the committee meeting. “I think the decision to sell the Sullivan St. property is based on the fact that it has the highest real estate value,” the neighbor said.

The society spokesperson said at the Jan. 18 committee meeting that Children’s Aid had not yet secured a broker, or signed a contract with a buyer.

The community board resolution concludes with the recommendation that the society find a buyer who would continue all existing education and community-based programs. The resolution calls on the society’s board of trustees to join with Community Board 2 members, neighborhood leaders and elected officials to “work to maintain the educational services now provided by Children’s Aid Society for current and future children of our community.”