Parents group hopes to SAVE Children’s Aid programs | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Parents group hopes to SAVE Children’s Aid programs

By Albert Amateau

Village education advocates and parents are looking for ways to save a desperately needed resource that is threatened by the Children’s Aid Society’s announcement that it is considering the sale of its Sullivan St. buildings.

The society’s board of trustees meets today, Thurs., Dec. 16, to decide whether to sell its Philip Coltoff Center, at 219 Sullivan St., where it has served the Village since 1892, and its Early Childhood Annex, at 175-177 Sullivan St.

The sale would mean that the society’s after-school and early childhood programs in the Village would close after June 2012, according to Richard R. Buery Jr., president and C.E.O. of the society.

The Children’s Aid Society’s single mission since its founding has been to serve New York City children living in poverty, Buery said.

“While Greenwich Village shows a continued demand for quality and affordable early childhood and after-school programs,” Buery said, “the neighborhood has changed radically in the 119 years since the center opened, and it is clear that the community no longer needs us in the way that higher poverty New York neighborhoods do.”

In response to the imminent closing, parents and education advocates have organized Save A Village Education (SAVE) to ensure that the Children’s Aid Society keeps the center open until June 2012, and that it sells the center to an organization that will preserve educational and community programs for children.

SAVE is urgently calling on Villagers to sign a petition on the SAVE Web site, http://www.saveavillageeducation.com, which is to be presented to the society’s trustees on Dec. 16.

Ann Kjellberg, a parent at Greenwich Village’s P.S. 41 and a SAVE member, said this week that she was asking elected officials and the city’s School Construction Authority for help in achieving SAVE’s goals.

Buery said on Monday that he knows about the petition and that he realizes the concern of neighbors. The early notice, he said, was to give parents a better chance to come up with a solution. Although the properties are not officially on the market yet, the society has already received several offers for the Village center, including some from schools. While he hoped that the properties would remain an educational resource, Buery said the society could not at this time assure the neighborhood about who might buy the properties.

Buery would not comment on estimates that sale of the properties could realize more than $20 million. Villagers have also heard that Little Red Schoolhouse and another local school are interested in the Sullivan St. properties.

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, noted that C.A.S.’s contiguous buildings are located within the area that G.V.S.H.P. originally proposed for the South Village Historic District.

After 14 months, the Landmarks Preservation Commission last June designated one-third of the proposed district as an extension of the Greenwich Village Historic District, but the Children’s Aid Society buildings were not included.

Berman said on Tuesday that L.P.C. in June promised it would calendar a hearing soon on the rest of the proposed district. In a letter to L.P.C. Chairperson Robert Tierney, Berman said, “The loss of the Children’s Aid Society would be tragic. If its buildings were to be sold prior to landmark designation, it would likely lead to their demolition and replacement with either a condo or dormitory high-rise.”

Berman told the East Villager, “It would be fairer for the Children’s Aid Society and for the buyer of the property to know about the landmark status of the property. We are urging the commission to keep its long-overdue promise and move ahead with consideration of this area for landmark designation right away.”

Keen Burger, chairperson of the Community Board 2 Social Services and Education Committee and Democratic district co-leader, said she was disturbed by the prospect of losing the society’s Sullivan St. center.

“It’s never a good idea to take education away from any child, rich or poor,” she said. “Not every Village child is from a wealthy home. We desperately need more space for all children to learn. I hope the society and the community can structure a solution that will keep education uses.”