Volume 76, Number 51 | May 16 -22, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

Children from Children’s Liberation Daycare and their parents protested on Monday outside the Angel Orensanz Foundation on Norfolk St. as a P.S. 122 benefit honoring Eric Bogosian was being held.

Daycare cries child abuse, says artistas want them out

By Albert Amateau

Children’s Liberation, a daycare center that shares space with three arts organizations at the P.S. 122 Community Center in the East Village, is desperately trying to remain in the neighborhood where two generations of toddlers have played and learned together.

A much-needed and long-awaited renovation of the former school building at 150 First Ave., built in 1894, and administered by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, has long been planned. On April 23, the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which funds Children’s Liberation, said the daycare must leave the building at the corner of E. Ninth St. by July 27 to make way for a four-year renovation project.

Children’s Services came up with two substitute locations nine blocks south, one with four classrooms at 255 E. Houston St. and the other with one classroom and an office just south of E. Houston St. at 180 Suffolk St.

“They’re not going to let us come back after the renovation and the new location is outside of our community, ”said Elizabeth Acevedo, a member of the Children’s Liberation sponsoring board. The action would leave the neighborhood with virtually no city-funded affordable daycare programs and would add yet another daycare to the Lower East Side where there are several, Acevedo said.

“It’s very true, there’s almost nothing between Houston and 14th Sts. and Bowery and there’s a cluster of daycares south of Houston and on Avenue D,” said Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3. The district is facing another city-funded daycare loss next month when Henry St. III on E. Ninth St. just east of Avenue C is closing.

The Henry St. Settlement has decided to abandon sponsorship of that daycare because the center enrolls 62 children, which is significantly short of its licensed enrollment of 75. And the departure of Children’s Liberation from E. Ninth St. points to the neighborhood gap in daycare, Stetzer said. Moving Children’s Liberation nine blocks south of its present location would burden families who live and work in the area, Stetzer said.

“Nine blocks becomes 18 if they have to walk to the school and walk back,” she said. The community board has asked A.C.S. to talk with them about the neighborhood’s changing daycare needs, she said.

Acevedo and other members of the Children’s Liberation sponsoring board contend that Performance Space 122, the arts group that has been sharing space in the building with the daycare for 25 years, has been the driving force to renovate the space exclusively for the arts organizations.

Relations between Children’s Lib and P.S.122 have often been tense over the years. The performance group ended up with the former gymnasium, which Children’s Lib had been using. And Paint Space 122, a collective of graphic artists, opened a gallery in space that Children’s Liberation was using for an office.

But Sarah Rutkowski, a Cultural Affairs spokesperson, said the decision to move Children’s Lib was made by the Administration for Children’s Services and had nothing to do with Performance Space 122 or the other arts groups

Nevertheless, an exuberant group of Children’s Liberation parents — many of them artists — and children turned up Mon., May 14, in front of the Angel Orensanz Center on Norfolk St. where P.S. 122 was holding its annual fundraising gala, and yelled slogans like “We can share. Why can’t you?”

The gala was in honor of the actor/writer Eric Bogosian and attracted luminaries like Leif Schreiber, Taylor Mead and Bob Holman, director of the Bowery Poetry Club. Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping was also one of the performers invited to the gala and stopped for about an hour to talk to Children’s Liberation parents who were across the street behind a police barricade jeering at guests as they arrived in limousines.

Edward Ware, a freelance composer who lives on E. Fourth St. between Avenues C and D, protested along with his wife, Aline Tisato, and their daughter, Dhara Zoe, 3 and a Children’s Liberation student since she was 2. Ware derided the claim that P.S. 122 was not driving the move to put the daycare out of the old school building.

“It’s ironic that an arts group is trying to take the space of children. A lot of their parents are artists,” he said.

Howard Nourieli, president of the Children’s Liberation board, who owns a business on Bowery and Rivington St., said that many parents who don’t live near the daycare depend on its location because it is close to their jobs and they can drop their children off in the morning and take them home in the afternoon.

Children’s Liberation has a strong ally in Rosie Mendez, city councilmember for the district where the daycare is located. She sent a letter to Kate Levin, Department of Cultural Affairs commissioner, and John Mattingly, commissioner of the Administration for Children’s Services, opposing the permanent relocation of Children’s Liberation.

Mendez said she supports the renovation to preserve the building as a mixed-use community center.

“Everyone affiliated with Children’s Liberation understands that [the daycare] would have to move temporarily, but there is no reason why that work should preclude their return to their home,” Mendez wrote.

She noted that the building was saved from demolition in the 1970s partly through neighborhood efforts to have it become a community center.

“The building’s existence is inextricably linked to the strong coalition of groups that represented various sectors of the neighborhood’s interest,” Mendez wrote.

Without assurances that the daycare would be able to return to 150 First Ave., Mendez told the commissioners that she would have to consider actions to withdraw more than $3 million of unspent funds previously allocated for P.S. 122 by the City Council.

In a telephone interview on Tues., May 15, Mendez noted that Children’s Liberation has an enrollment of about 77 students in a facility licensed for 87.

“It’s pretty clear that Children’s Liberation would be able to bring its enrollment to capacity,” she said, contrasting it with the situation of the Henry St. III center off Avenue C due to close next month.

Mendez also said she had seen plans for P.S. 122 a year ago that definitely indicated space for daycare use.

But a source involved in the renovation said all previous plans for the interior configuration of the building have been scrapped. Indeed, architects for the program space have not yet been chosen. The first phase of the renovation calls for repairing the dangerously deteriorated brick facade and replacing windows, which could take more than two years.

Despite A.C.S. ordering Children’s Liberation to relocate by July 27, the arts groups, Performance Space 122, Painting Space 122 and Mabou Mines, plus an AIDS services office that also shares the building, have not been given any relocation deadline, according to the construction source.

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