Volume 74, Number 3 | June 8- 14, 2005

Villager photo by Elisabeth Robert

Alfredo Gomez, 3, played with some toys at Children’s Liberation Daycare on Monday.

Day care fears P.S. 122 not so artfully ousting them

By M.L. Liu

A dispute is brewing among the tenants of P.S. 122, a former school building in the East Village. Children’s Liberation Day Care Center is charging that the arts groups in the building want the day care out. But two of the arts groups counter that they want no such thing.

In addition to the day care, an AIDS Service Center NYC site, Mabou Mines Theater Company, Performance Center 122 and Painting Space 122 occupy the four-story red-brick building at Ninth St. and First Ave. The building’s five tenants are equal partners in 122 Community Center, formed in 1977. Each group subleases space from 122 Community Center, which rents P.S. 122 from the city for $1 a year. The Department of Cultural Affairs holds the lease to the building.

Elizabeth Acevedo, chairperson of the day care center’s board of directors, is concerned that the building’s other tenants, in particular Performance Space, are trying to evict the day care so that they can claim the day care center’s space for their programs.
Acevedo said that in 2002, 122 Community Center — despite objections from the day care — submitted a request for funds from the city indicating that it intended to construct a building on the site of the day care’s playground. According to the request, a new playground would be installed on the roof.

Acevedo said the day care’s current lack of a long-term lease is another indication that the arts groups are trying to push the day care center out. Children’s Liberation previously operated under a 10-year lease, which expired in June 2003. Acevedo said that although the day care requested a long-term lease extension, it was not given one. Instead, the day care was told to draft and submit a new lease.

Acevedo believes that even if the day care submitted a lease, the board would not sign it. She said the day care is currently on a monthly lease and continues to pay the same amount of rent that it did under its old lease.

Acevedo also referred to a November 2004 meeting that Children’s Liberation Day Care Center had with the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which oversees the day care. Acevedo said the agency had agreed, upon the request of the Department of Cultural Affairs, to look for an alternative space for the day care.

According to Acevedo, A.C.S. told the day care that D.C.A. wanted to renovate and use the entire building for arts-related activities. She said A.C.S., however, had not been able to find a comparable or better space for the day care. Acevedo believes the arts groups in P.S. 122 urged D.C.A. to request the day care center be relocated.

Contributing further to the bad feelings between Children’s Liberation and the arts groups are safety issues, including accessibility of fire exits, smoking on the property and work done when children are present. Acevedo accused the arts groups of trivializing such concerns.

Both Anne Dennin, executive director of Performance Space 122 and vice president of the 122 Community Center board, and Terry O’Reilly, co-artistic director of Mabou Mines and a center board member, deny that their groups want the day care center to leave the building.

“I can certainly vouch [for the fact] that I have not asked D.C.A. to move the day care center anywhere,” said Dennin.

O’Reilly referred to a building assessment study that had been conducted in which appraisers had “said the only way to expand the building realistically is to build where the playground is.” Trying to explain where the proposal for a rooftop playground came from, he said that was only one paragraph of a larger appraisal.

Dennin said 122 Community Center was told it had been awarded $4.5 million by the city last July. According to O’Reilly, all the tenants of P.S. 122, not just Children’s Liberation Day Care Center, had to secure new leases with D.C.A. as a result of the award.

Dennin and O’Reilly said D.C.A. also asked the center, after the city awarded it the money, to review its bylaws and make sure it was in compliance with them. Dennin and O’Reilly explained that under the center’s bylaws, Katharine Wolpe had exceeded her term limit as 122 Community Center board president.

“She [Wolpe] was asked to step down for a year and then she could run again,” said Dennin.

Acevedo charged, however, that Wolpe was voted off because she occupied a community seat on the board and was sympathetic to the day care.

Wolpe could not be reached for comment by press time.

When asked about safety issues in the building that Acevedo raised, Dennin said inspections conducted by the Fire Department, D.C.A. and A.C.S. have passed “with flying colors.”

Whether or not the building’s other tenants want the day care center to go, Acevedo said the day care is opposed to leaving P.S. 122. She stressed that Children’s Liberation is the only publicly funded day care in the area and that ample public transportation nearby makes it accessible.

The day care center serves about 87 preschoolers — who are separated into five classes in its facility — from low- to middle-class families. Most of the children enrolled in the day care and the day care’s 25 staff members come from the community.

Acevedo’s sons, now 25 and 27, both attended the day care, and her 5-year-old granddaughter currently attends.

“They [the arts groups] have their vision, and we don’t fit into their vision,” said Acevedo. “I have a feeling if we’re pushed out of there, we’re not going to survive.” She expressed her desire to be able to continue sharing space with the building’s other tenants.

Artists took over the abandoned former P.S. 122 in the late ’70s. The building was subsequently renovated and reopened as a community center.

In a letter to A.C.S. last December, Acevedo proposed that A.C.S. take control over the part of the building used by Children’s Liberation. She also requested a meeting between A.C.S., D.C.A. and building tenants to resolve the dispute. Acevedo said A.C.S. has not called such a meeting.

Sara Rutkowski, a spokeswoman for the Department of Cultural Affairs, referred all questions about the dispute to A.C.S..

A.C.S. spokeswoman Lisi de Bourbon said, “We are working with all the tenants of the building to resolve their differences. And there has been no talk of eviction.”

Margarita Lopez, City Councilmember for District 2, is distressed by the friction between the tenants of P.S. 122. She called the people involved in the dispute “decent” but said no one was innocent.

Lopez said she voiced her concerns at a 122 Community Center board meeting subsequent to the one in which Wolpe was removed. She said she wanted to see Wolpe back on the board of 122 Community Center because of Wolpe’s contributions to the community.

“Unless I see all of them working together, then I will withhold my support for that building,” said Lopez, who has been working with the board, D.C.A. and A.C.S. to ensure that all five groups remain in the building and continue to serve the community in their different capacities. “It’s in the best interests of everyone to cooperate with each other,” she said.

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