2010-03-19 / Top Stories

Landlord Disputes ACS Claims For Closing Day Care Center

By Miriam Rosenberg

As the future of two Rockaway day care centers hangs in the balance, awaiting the decision as to whether they will be closed because of the massive budget shortfall and the service cuts those shortfalls will bring, the landlord of one of those day care centers is speaking out on the issue.

Herbert Licht, owner of the building housing Hammels/Arverne Day Care Center at 216 Beach 87 Street recently contacted Quddus Shaikh, the Director for Lease Enforcement and Special Projects at the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS).

The Wave has obtained a copy of the letter from Licht and has spoken with him about the process of closing down the center that rents his property.

Licht says that ACS is using specific criteria to determine which 15 centers will be close, which includes, among other things, whether the center is fully utilized and whether the space is satisfactory for the day care program.

In his case, Licht says, the city agency told him verbally that the lease for the Hammels/Arverne Day Care, which rents his property will be terminated because of “unsatisfactory building conditions and an underutilization of the facility. ACS however, failed to respond either to Licht or The Wave as to specific building conditions that are problematic. Licht notes, however, that Hammels/Arverne has a site capacity of 110 students, double the number of 55 students that the agency says is required to keep a program open and operating. “At this time the building’s allocation is shared between two different day care agencies, each having 55 children,” wrote Licht in his letter to ACS officials. Licht contends that the sharing of the slots by the two day care centers shows that the building is not being underutilized. He says that Bethel Day Care is the other organization in the building, functioning as a temporary guest agency.

Patricia Harris, the director of Hammels/Arverne, told The Wave that she could easily fill the slots now filled by Bethel should they find other facilities for their program. “There is a need,” said Harris. According to Licht, he doesn’t understand the agency’s contention that the building is “unsatisfactory,” arguing that the building is in “tip-top shape.” “This building was completely rebuilt and renovated in 2005,” said the landlord, who says he put an additional $1.8 million into the property two years ago as well.

“Every element of the building is in perfect working order such as [the] elevator, fire alarms, [and] heat and air conditioning. [There are] security screens on all [the] windows, rubber play yard flooring on all three roofs, [an] all electric commercial kitchen, and [a] multi-purpose room. The building is high, dry, well-heated and air conditioned and is secured by a controlled entry system.”

While he would have to spend between $75,000 and $100,000 to maintain the building if it becomes empty, Licht says that is not his reason for pressing to keep the day care center open. “There is a need and the need is great [for these services],” said Licht in his letter to ACS. In addition to the building’s condition and what the city says is an underutilization of the building, the Hammels/Arverne center has a direct lease, which means the city, not those who run the center, pays the rent. Because of budget considerations, day care centers with this type of lease have become targets for closure.

“The city agency runs 339 children centers,” said Sharman Stein, a spokesperson for ACS, last month. “All are run under contract by a not-for-profit. One hundred and fifteen are direct lease. We did these leases 20 years ago. They’re very expensive, [ranging from] $150,000 to $400,000 [per year] and they’re coming due. We looked where we could cut while not taking away services from any child. We looked where there is another center close by or by consolidation.”

Licht said Hammels/Arverne enables parents to leave their children in a safe environment while remaining gainfully employed.

Stein of ACS told The Wave, during an interview last month, that there were specific criteria for closing the centers; she would not say what determined the final decision to close the two local centers. In an email on Monday, Stein told The Wave that the day care center closings are still not official.

“The City Council is still reviewing the preliminary budget,” said Stein. “If the proposed budget is passed this spring, and nothing else changes, (ie. our ability to renegotiate some leases) we will end the contracts starting July 1, 2010 (beginning of FY11).”

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