Volume 20, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | December 15 - 21, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Tequila Minsky
A nanny, left, talked to a receptionist at the Children’s Aid Society on Wednesday after bringing two young West Villagers over to use the society’s playroom.
Citing less need, Children’s Aid may leave Sullivan St.
BY Albert Amateau
The Children’s Aid Society is considering the sale of its buildings on Sullivan St. where it has been a part of the Village for more than a century.
In a letter to families who take part in the society’s Arts and After-school Program, the New Acting Company classes and productions in the Sullivan Street complex, the center’s executives said the decision, which is under “serious consideration,” is driven by the society’s mission to serve families most in need.
If the society decides to sell the buildings at 219 Sullivan Street and 175 Sullivan Street, it is likely that its programs as well as the early childhood center would close after June 2012.
The society’s board of directors is scheduled to vote on the impeding sale at its Thurs., December 16 meeting.
“We are aware that this news will come as a shock to many,” said Richard Buery, the society’s president and chief executive officer, in a November 28 letter to parents and adults involved in the society’s programs. “The programs are wonderful and the staff is comprised of supremely talented and caring people,” Buery said.
“While the Greenwich Village community shows a continued demand for quality and affordable early-childhood and after-school programs, the neighborhood has changed radically in the 119 years since this center opened, and it’s clear the community no longer needs us in the way that higher-poverty New York neighborhoods do,” Buery said in a subsequent news release.
The society, dedicated in 1853 to help poor children thrive, now has 45 locations in the five boroughs and Westchester. The Children’s Aid Society has been in the Village since 1892, and was named in 2005 as the Phillip Coltoff Center in honor of the society’s retired president. The early-childhood annex was opened at 175 Sullivan Street 20 years ago, and the main center at 219 Sullivan Street was renovated in 1994.
“This is really heartbreaking,” Buery said on Dec. 1. “We constantly struggle with difficult decisions about which services are most closely aligned with our mission. We will be working hard to support families and staff through this transition.”
Buery said parents were notified early in the process, even before a broker was engaged and well before any closing of the programs, to allow parents to make adjustments.
In response to the impending sale, Save A Village Education was organized last week to ensure that the Children’s Aid Society fulfill its commitment to keep the center open through June 2012 and that it sells the property to an organization that will preserve educational and community programs for children. The group, with a website at www.saveavillageeducation.com, noted that more than 1,500 children and community members are served annually at the centers and that at least 125 employees might lose their jobs. S.A.V.E. is circulating an electronic petition to the society
Buery said on Monday, December 13 that he knows about the petition and that he realizes the concern of neighbors. The early notice, he said, was to give parents a better chance to come up with a solution. Although the properties are not officially on the market yet, the society has already received several offers, including some from schools. While he hoped that the properties would remain an educational resource, the society could not assure the neighborhood about what might follow any sale.
Keen Burger, chair of the Community Board 2 social services and education committee and democratic district co-leader, said she was disturbed by the prospect of losing the society’s Sullivan Street center. “It’s never a good idea to take education away from any child, rich or poor,” she said. “Not every Village child is from a wealthy home. We desperately need more space for all children to learn. I hope the society and the community can structure a solution that will keep education uses,” she said.
Berger suggested that the society could charge higher fees for affluent parents and provide more scholarships for families that need them.
Buery, however, said the Children’s Aid does provide scholarships as well as provide high-quality, low-cost education. “People’s anger [about the change] is entirely justified. But this is not a real estate deal. Providing a resource in the service of the community is a perfectly valid idea, but it is still not at the core of our mission. In a time of shrinking resources in the city and the country, it’s unreasonable to expect a charity like Children’s Aid to be able to solve all those needs. I hope people understand how seriously we take this. There is no joy or happiness in it.”
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, noted the continuous Children’s Aid Society buildings are located within the area that G.V.S.H.P. originally proposed for the South Village Historic District.
After 14 months, the Landmarks Preservation Commission last June designated one-third of the proposed district as an extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District, but the Children’s Aid Society buildings were not included.
Berman said on Tuesday that the L.P.C. in June promised that the commission would calendar a hearing soon on the rest of the proposed district. In a letter to L.P.C. chairman Robert Tierney, Berman said, “The loss of the Children’s Aid Society would be tragic. If its buildings were to be sold prior to landmark designation, it would likely lead to their demolition and replacement with either a condo or dormitory high-rise.” Berman told Downtown Express, “It’s important for the Children’s Aid Society and for the buyer of the property to know about the landmark status of the property. We are urging the commission to keep its long-overdue promise and move ahead with consideration of this area for landmark designation right away.”