West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933
Volume 77, Number 22 | Oct. 31 - Nov. 06, 2007

Villager file photo

A youngster from Children’s Liberation Daycare at a protest to save their space earlier this year.

City won’t play nice with daycare, which files suit

By Albert Amateau

Children’s Liberation Daycare Center, whose 88 youngsters between the ages of 2 and 6 share the former P.S. 122 with three arts organizations, is going to court on Nov. 28 to plead for the space in the East Village building and adjacent play yard that they have used for the past 26 years.

The city-owned building at 150 First Ave. at E. Ninth St., the home of the trio of arts groups and an AIDS service office, as well as Children’s Liberation, is in dire need of renovation and has been surrounded by scaffolding for the past two years.

Last April, the city’s Administration for Children’s Services, which oversees publicly funded daycare centers in the city, told Children’s Liberation it would have to leave the 1894 building to make way for a four-or-five-year renovation by the Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the use of the building by the arts groups.

The city came up with two substitute locations for Children’s Liberation with connecting back yards — at 255 E. Houston St. and 180 Stanton St., nine blocks south of the present building — an alternative the daycare directors say would fragment the Children’s Liberation program.

The other objection about the alternative sites is that the city would not allow the daycare center to return to 150 First Ave. after the renovation is complete.

“There are too many things not spelled out,” said Martha Danziger, a former district manager of Community Board 3 and a neighborhood resident whose son, now 25, went to the center as a child.

“We’ve seen two or three possible plans for the renovation of the building and a document that says there would be no daycare and another that says there would be a daycare center but not specifically Children’s Liberation,” said Danziger, a member of the Children’s Liberation board of directors. “We do have a history of cooperation but we have to make sure we have a place in the neighborhood,” she said.

Two weeks ago, Arthur Schwartz, attorney for Children’s Liberation, went to court for a temporary restraining order against both any construction that would require Children’s Liberation to move or any action that would force the daycare center out of 150 First Ave.

Schwartz also sought a T.R.O. to prevent A.C.S., which administers federal funding for daycare, from canceling its contract with Children’s Liberation or from freezing the enrollment of eligible families in the program.

But State Supreme Court Justice Kibbie F. Payne denied the restraining order, ruling that there was no immediate danger of eviction, and set the Nov. 28 date for a hearing to permanently resolve the issues.

Nevertheless, the parents and board members of Children’s Liberation still fear that A.C.S. will put pressure on the daycare program to move. Earlier this month, A.C.S. rejected applications by four eligible families to enroll children in the program, according to Danziger.

“That’s putting a freeze on enrollment, and if it falls below the contractual agreement the city could say we’ve failed to live up to the contract and close us down,” Danziger said.

Relations have often been tense between Children’s Liberation and the arts groups in the building — Mabou Mines, an avant-garde theater group; Performance Space 122, which operates a theater in the building; and Painting Space 122 Associates. AIDS Services Center of Lower Manhattan also has a small office in the building.

While the city owns the five-story building, it is run by a nonprofit entity, 122 Community Center, Inc., that originally had representation from the community as well as the five building occupants. Currently, Anne Dennin, executive director of Performance Space 122, is board chairperson of 122 Community Center, Inc.

But according to Judy Zaborowski, a community member of the board of 122 Community Center, Inc., the board has not met for two years.

Children’s Liberation was organized in 1971 when two daycare programs located on the first floors of First Ave. walk-up buildings merged. The program moved to the top two floors of the Third St. Music School Settlement on E. 11th St. and Second Ave. a short time later.

In 1980 the city authorized leasing the former public school building at 150 First Ave. at E. Ninth St. for use as a nonprofit community center, and 122 Community Center, Inc., was organized the following year with the arts groups and Children’s Liberation as occupants.

In 2000, 122 Community Center, Inc., commissioned a study of the condition and needs of the 106-year-old building.

A two-phase project was proposed, one for masonry facade, roof and window repair and another for an addition to the building on the Children’s Liberation playground — including a new playground for the daycare center on the roof of the addition. But only the first phase was funded.

While it had been agreed that Children’s Liberation would not have to move out of 150 First Ave. during construction, A.C.S. ordered the daycare to move for safety reasons because the Department of Cultural Affairs was to begin renovations in July of this year.

The work, however, has been deferred until 2008.

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