Volume 16 • Issue 50 | May 7 - 13, 2004

Manhattan Youth to close its youth center this month

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Bob Townley, executive director of Manhattan Youth, says he will have to close his after-school center at 55 Warren St. at the end of the month. He will continue to run some programs away from the site.

Bob Townley doesn’t like the word victim, at least not applied to his youth services organization in the aftermath of the World Trade Center collapse.
At the end of May, Manhattan Youth will have to close its community center at 55 Warren St. and with it, several free after-school and weekend programs serving 200 teens. When he signed a three-year lease in 2001, Townley had expected by June, 2004 to be able to move into a new community center slated for a proposed development on Chambers St.

But the project, a residential tower planned for the city-owned Site 5C lot, stalled after the terror attack and is only now undergoing a formal city land use review. Townley’s landlord won’t renew his lease, and Manhattan Youth can’t afford the $350,000 per year it that would cost to run a community center until 5C is expected to open in 2007.

“We’re not victims, we’re a result of a delay because of 9/11,” Townley said.

Townley will close the community center on June 1, knowing that he will probably not have a comparable space to reopen for the new school year this fall. Townley will also have to lay off workers for the first time in Manhattan Youth’s nearly 20-year history.

“I feel terrible,” Townley said about letting the four workers go.

And students will lose what many described as a second home.

“I’ve been coming here since last year—it’s been such a good thing,” said Edy Florio, 12, a Battery Park City resident and a seventh grader at I.S. 89 who said her grades have improved since she started going to 55 Warren after school. “It’s hard knowing that even though I can finish up my year, I can’t come back.”

Edy said she enjoys the center’s computers best and recently used her digital design skills to create the back page for a creative magazine the students are producing.

“It rocks,” said Rui Yoshikawa, 12, a Soho resident and I.S. 89 seventh grader, of the after-school program. Rui said he likes playing pool and learning the smart homework strategies the program coordinators teach him.

Jack Shannon, 11, an I.S. 89 sixth grader who lives on Murray St., said he appreciated having a place where he could finish his homework without distraction.

If the center closes, Jack said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Deliverance could still come in the form of a cash grant from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation. Manhattan Youth has requested $1.2 million from the L.M.D.C. for an interim center, Townley said, a relative drop in the bucket compared with the $1 billion in federal 9/11 aid that the city-state agency has left to allocate.

But many community and other groups are vying for the same pot, and Townley isn’t counting on a cash infusion. Kevin Rampe, president of the L.M.D.C., told Downtown Express on Wednesday that the corporation’s board would decide when to announce the allocation of the remaining funds.
One student at 55 Warren decided to write a letter about the center’s closing, which a friend urged her to send to the L.M.D.C.

“Everyone is a different person once they come here, or will become a better person after they leave,” wrote Josephine Luo, 12, an I.S. 89 seventh grader. “I cannot imagine my life without 55 Warren.”

Townley said he is looking for smaller space to house Manhattan Youth’s administrative offices until the 5C center is completed. This fall, the organization will continue the sports and other programs it runs within P.S. 234, P.S. 150, and P.S./I.S. 89.

Community Board 1 officials are currently negotiating with the city and the developer over the size of the community center to be built within the proposed 35-story residential tower on Chambers St., near West St. The developer has designed 18,000 square feet, but C.B. 1 has demanded 40,000.

Community members have debated whether an expanded community center or a lower building should be the focus of negotiations. C.B. 1 chairperson Madelyn Wils has said that the community should not have to compromise on either priority.

On Tuesday, C.B. 1 officials met with officials from the city Economic Developments Corporation and the Department of Education to discuss the creation of a 10,000-sq.-ft. educational annex in the 5C building, a possibility that looks likely, according to a C.B. 1 member who attended the meeting. The exact use for the annex has not been determined, but one option would be to house the pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classes of P.S. 234.

In the meantime, Townley is confident that Manhattan Youth will recover from its temporary setback: “I’ve had to chop off an arm to save a body, but we’re like a starfish, it’ll grow back.”



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