With just two days left before the fate of its Red Hook location — which for the past three years has served as many as 100 children aged 2 to 5—is decided, Strong Place for Hope Day Care Executive Director Lorraine Pennisi remains hopeful of a last minute reprieve.
Pennisi, who since 1989 has directed the non-profit in its mission to provide Brooklyn children with innovative early childhood curriculum at locations in Boerum Hill and Park Slope as well as Red Hook, is sweating out a March 25 deadline for the city’s Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) to halt the sale of Strong Place for Hope’s location at 595 Clinton Street to a local yeshiva.
“We are committed to providing an enriched preschool experience for all the children in our community and have been doing so since 1970,” said Pennisi, whose organization has been forced to move twice previously in the past twelve years. “We want to continue in Red Hook and are optimistic that things will work out for that community.”
Pennisi’s faith perhaps flies in the face of reality; the building that houses both a day care and Strong Place for Hope’s executive offices has been sold to Yeshiva of Kasho for approximately $6.4 million. If the sale goes through, by next April Pennisi will have to relocate a day care program that has proven popular with local residents.
In a twist of Dickensian magnitude, Strong Place for Hope may yet have a last-minute reprieve; the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), which underwrites the organization’s services, has right of first refusal on the sale. All it will take is a written notification by this Friday of an intent to match the offering price and Pennisi’s organization — which was operating at full capacity until last fall, when the building’s owner, Jacbel Realty LLC posted large “For Sale” signs on the façade — will be able to stay in it’s home of the past three years, a site that has continuously offered subsidized day care services for over 40 years.
Despite constant pressure, the city has yet to act.
“I haven’t heard a word from anybody” at ACS, Ron Krauss, managing agent for the property at 595 Clinton Street, said on Monday.
“The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is committed to ensuring quality care and education for New York City’s youngest children,” said Carol Cáceres, ACS Deputy Press Secretary, when contacted by Corner Media. “We are aware that the building where Strong Place for Hope Day Care is housed has been put on sale and the City is currently assessing all options.”
New York City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, whose 38th District includes Strong Place for Hope’s threatened location, is fighting to the end to save the valued day care provider.
“The families who depend on Strong Place for Hope in Red Hook need to know their school has a certain and secure future,” Menchaca said by email. “While ACS reassures us that they’re ‘assessing all options,’ parents, children and educators are on pins and needles with the very real possibility of losing their school.”
“I urge ACS to purchase the property and give this school the future it has so admirably earned,” he added.
There is ample justification for maintaining day care services directly across the street from NYCHA’s Red Hook Houses.
“There are no other day cares in this community; it borders on a major highway (BQE), [a] heavy industrial [area], and the Brooklyn waterfront,” said John T. Zodda, Vice President on Strong Place for Hope’s board and a board member for more than 25 years. “To expect preschool children to traverse this neighborhood to get to one of our satellite locations or another ACS day care is more than should be expected.”
In her 2015 policy report: Child Care In New York City, Public Advocate Letitia James called on ACS to save hundreds of City-funded EarlyLearn child care seats that have either closed or are at risk of closing because of expiring leases.
Bosko Stankovic of Ingram & Hebron Realty described as “reasonable” Strong Place for Hope’s $550,000 annual rent ($24 a square foot) for a 23,000 square-foot space that includes six classroom, a library, an industrial kitchen and a 5,000 square foot roof-top play space.
Stankovic questioned 595 Clinton Street’s estimated purchase price of $285 per square foot as “below what you’d expect a building of that type to trade in” and far less than the $400 to $450 per square foot that mixed-use commercial spaces in Red Hook are currently fetching.
Pennisi, who has dealt with being displaced before, is pragmatic about what the future might hold. It’s unlikely Strong Place for Hope’s locations on Atlantic Avenue in Boerum Hill and 2nd Street in Park Slope will be able to absorb the children enrolled at Clinton Street.
“The problem will be how to accommodate those 100 children [in Red Hook],” she said. “We do have time to figure this out in case things don’t work out the way that I expect they will. Our lease will not expire until April of 2017 and then — if I have to — I’ll ameliorate the impact [of a move] on the community if at all possible.”