Photos by Tequila Minsky
Michael Zisser, executive director of University Settlement, right, and Gabriella Taylor, director of Creative Steps, standing in front of the hallway that leads from the lobby of Washington Square Village 4 back to the current daycare center. The hallway and all the rooms off it will be incorporated into a new, 6,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art daycare center.
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | N.Y.U. — going beyond what was required in its agreement with the city for the O.K.’ing of its N.Y.U. 2031 development plan — is creating space for not one, but two, local nonprofit groups in the university’s Washington Square Village complex.
Alicia Hurley, New York University vice president of outreach and community engagement, recently led The Villager on a tour of the two spaces, along with representatives of the nonprofits and Councilmember Margaret Chin, whose advocacy led to the creation of the second space.
As part of getting the city’s permission to develop roughly 2 million square feet of space on the university’s two South Village superblocks, N.Y.U. is required to designate 6,000 square feet on the ground floor of Washington Square Village 4, on Bleecker St., for a community-oriented use. To fulfill that obligation, the university is expanding a small, existing daycare center already located in part of the space, Creative Steps, which will partner with University Settlement. The expansion will triple the size of the daycare’s space. The facility will be all new and state-of-the art, and will allow the daycare to serve 75 youngsters, ages 1 to 5.
The space is slated to open in January 2014. Its entrance will be on Mercer St., next to the Mercer St. Playground.
The daycare expansion will take over a hallway that leads from the building’s lobby — and also the Center for Graduate Student Life, which will be relocated to Washington Square Village 2, on W. Third St.
Started as a parent co-op in the 1970s, Creative Steps began with just eight students.
Michael Zisser, chief executive officer of University Settlement, said the new facility will be the ultimate in daycare.
“This is it, in terms of what’s built today,” he said. “It’ll all be high-end.”
In terms of who will use the daycare, Zisser said, “From our perspective, it’s a community facility — not just N.Y.U. It will be for the community at large.”
Caught a bit off-guard by the photographer, Cynthia Maurer, executive director of Visiting Neighbors, right, was happily checking out the 900-square-foot space in Washington Square Village 3 that N.Y.U. will renovate for the senior-care organization. Councilmember Margaret Chin, left, helped broker the agreement.
Creative Steps had been basically word of mouth in terms of how parents found about it, and it prioritized university personnel. But University Settlement and Creative Steps will now make an effort to reach out to the community regarding filling the slots.
University Settlement, a Lower East Side settlement house, has been involved in early-childhood development for 125, Zisser noted, adding, “So we have some experience.”
The space will be opened up with glass to make it more airy and sun-filled, Gabriella Taylor, the daycare’s director, said approvingly.
“It makes us better than we are,” she said.
The fee will be “below market rate,” she assured.
“There are some early-childhood centers that charge yearly tuition equal to N.Y.U. tuition,” she noted.
Partial scholarships will be available to reflect the needs of applicants.
The university will cover the full cost of the renovation.
The rent will be very discounted, according to Zisser, noting, “Margaret Chin negotiated it to make it as minimal as possible.”
In addition, Councilmember Chin had requested that the same area also house a space for local senior-care organization, Visiting Neighbors. Instead, feeling this didn’t make sense logistically, N.Y.U. chose to site this nonprofit in 900 square feet of currently empty office space in Washington Square Village 3, also located on Bleecker St.
Visiting Neighbors was started in 1973 as a grassroots organization by a group of concerned Villagers. The organization focuses on visiting seniors and also doing “shop and escort,” helping them with local errands. The group’s goal is to keep seniors living at home as long as possible.
But Visiting Neighbors has struggled to stay afloat in recent years due to funding cuts from the Department of the Aging. The organization was forced to leave a 2,000-square-foot office in the Village and relocate to a very tight, windowless, 250-square-foot space in Chelsea. Three years ago the staff was cut from 13 to six, and those remaining went on unemployment for a year in order to keep Visiting Neighbors alive. Through it all, the organization has continued to serve 500 seniors residing mainly in the Village and on the Lower East Side.
The new Village-based headquarters will also help Visiting Neighbors — which will relocate there by fall 2013 — by bringing it closer to the clients it serves.
“Our heart and soul is still the Village, because it’s where we started,” said Cynthia Maurer, Visiting Neighbors executive director.
Maurer said that currently she has to leave the office and step out to the deli in order to have a confidential discussion.
Looking at the Washington Square Village space two weeks ago, a relieved Maurer said, “I’ll probably finally be able to have a private conversation in here.”
Another area in the office, she said, as they checked the space out, would be perfect for a health advocate, who will “nudge” the seniors to get medical attention and regular checkups.
“It gives us hope for the future,” she said of their future 900-square-foot home. “We’re grateful to N.Y.U. … And a window!” she said excitedly, envisioning her future director’s office.
As part of the agreement with the city, N.Y.U. is also giving the city’s School Construction Authority the right to build a 100,000-square-foot public school at the current Morton Williams supermarket site, at Bleecker St. and LaGuardia Place. If by the end of 2014, S.C.A. has chosen not to build the school, then N.Y.U., under the agreement, will build a 25,000-square-foot community facility there, possibly for seniors, as part of a 100,000-square-foot building.
As the tour concluded, everyone gathered around a table in the office of Community Board 2, which is also located in Washington Square 3.
“It just exceeded my expectations,” said a smiling Chin regarding the soon-to-be renovated spaces. “I’m just so happy that it worked out with the early-childhood center. This is really great. And I’m just so happy we could find a space for Visiting Neighbors.”
Chin is continuing to meet with N.Y.U. regularly regarding the 2031 project, to monitor the process moving forward and make sure that the university is abiding by its agreements. There is also an open-space task force that is keeping tabs on N.Y.U.’s requirements on that front.
Speaking later, one member of the Washington Square Village Tenants Association who has been an active critic of 2031, talking on condition of anonymity, noted that Creative Steps has had its space rent-free all these years.
Asked about that, N.Y.U.’s Hurley responded, “Regarding ‘rent,’ Creative Steps and University Settlement, as well as Visiting Neighbors, will all be paying rent, but a highly affordable one. We want them in the space to succeed. If the nonprofit partners who are preparing their business plans and factoring in rents see this as a very good and generous opportunity made available by the university, at the request of Councilmember Chin, I’m not sure that I’m too concerned over a few vocal opponents who tend to not be able to say anything positive about the university.”
Washington Square Village has possibly around 1,100 apartments now, according to the tenant activist. She said no one really knows for certain, since N.Y.U. has been combining so many units in the complex. About 18 percent of the apartments are occupied by non-university-affiliated tenants. The tenants association is waiting for N.Y.U. to provide them with a space, too — a 60 person-capacity meeting room — she added.
In total, under the approval of the 2031 ULURP, the university is obligated to provide 38,000 square feet of community space, which presumably factors in a community facility on the Morton Williams supermarket site, should the city opt not to build a public school there.
Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, is a plaintiff in a community lawsuit against the 2031 project. He said that the “tradeoff,” if it can be called that — under which the university is providing new community space — doesn’t change the equation, given the impact the university’s planned development projects will have on the two South Village superblocks.
“Thirty-eight-thousand square feet of community space doesn’t make up for 2 million square feet of expansion,” he said, “or for turning our residential neighborhood into a construction zone.”