By Gabriela Resto-Montero
GREENWICH VILLAGE — Actress Brooke Shields and thousands of other people have signed an online petition to keep the buildings housing the Children's Aid Society center on Sullivan Street open as a preschool — even if the non-profit leaves the neighborhood.
"Children deserve to have the education and safe environment that this school provides," Shields, who is a resident of the West Village, wrote on the Save a Village Education group's petition. "Please, we can't lose this school!"
Earlier this month, the Children's Aid Society, which has provided services for low-income kids for more than 150 years, announced that because the Greenwich Village neighborhood has changed so much, it is no longer in need of the charity's services.
The organization is considering selling the Philip Coltoff Center buildings, where their programs — including a preschool — are housed, so they can focus more on other communities.
Parents accept the fact that the Children's Aid Society will eventually have to leave, but they want to make sure that whoever takes over the center keeps operating the preschool.
Richard Buery, president and CEO of the Children's Aid Society, said that if a sale is authorized, parents will be welcome to suggest new operators for the education facilities.
"We would love it if we could find a purchaser or a solution that would allow the service to stay in the community," Buery said.
"The reality is, we don't know if that will happen, we haven't put the building up for sale yet, much less entered into negotiations," he said.
Buery added that several educational organizations that neighborhood parents would likely welcome have made informal inquiries about the space.
The parents group has also urged the society to stay open through June 2012 and is asking them to commit to selling the facilities, which include an indoor playground and state-of-the-art classrooms, to someone who will keep them open as an early childhood center.
"This neighborhood just keeps growing, you see more and more children and there are not enough places for these children," said Christina Summers, a parent with the group.
The Children's Aid Society's board will vote on the sale of the center Dec. 16.