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Rhinelander Children's Center Rallies to Save School with Sale Looming

By Victoria Bekiempis | September 24, 2013 10:01am
 Rhinelander Children's Center has operated in some form at 350 E. 88th St. since about 1892. 
Rhinelander Children's Center has operated in some form at 350 E. 88th St. since about 1892. 
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DNAinfo/Victoria Bekiempis

YORKVILLE — School isn't out just yet for the Rhinelander Children's Center.

The esteemed Upper East Side early-education center has been threatened with closure since the Children's Aid Society, which owns the school's building, announced plans to sell the property in June

The society has also announced that it would "discontinue operations" there in July 2014.

But parents and administrators are now raising funds for a new campus, Ellen Santoro, Rhinelander's early-childhood program director, told DNAinfo New York.

"I don't want it to go away, nor do a lot of families who are here. We all feel very strongly about keeping it going," Santoro said. "Many of them got together and said, 'What could we do to help?'"

Santoro and others formed an interim advisory board and have submitted the forms to make Rhinelander a nonprofit organization separate from the Children's Aid Society. They also secured the center's name, so that it could keep operating as Rhinelander on a new campus, Santoro said. She has visited several potential sites in the neighborhood, and the group has also launched a fundraising website.

The biggest challenge, however, will be getting financial backing to continue the center, which currently serves about 600 children and teens annually.

Rhinelander would need to raise at least $750,000 by January to secure a space and make changes to the building for its programming, Santoro estimated.

Still, she is optimistic that Rhinelander supporters can raise the cash.

Santoro's biggest hope, she said, is that a philanthropist would make a bid on the 13,600-square-foot townhouse, located at 350 E. 88th St., and permit Rhinelander to remain in the building.

Rhinelander, which began as an industrial school for women and later expanded into other social programs, has been in the building since approximately 1892. 

The Children's Aid Society supports Rhinelander's plan, though the organization is not working directly with the center to secure a new space, spokesman Anthony Ramos said.

Ramos said the society is "still in the process of selecting a broker" and is "not in a position just yet to entertain any buyers."

Asked whether the society would be willing to sell the building to a Rhinelander backer, Ramos said: "We have a responsibility to make sure we have the best deal that we can get."

But, "We'll definitely entertain any bids from that group as well," he added.

The society's decision to sell the building stems from a change in mission focusing more on social programs elsewhere, Ramos explained.

"We're always looking at our real estate assets and are determining whether our programs and services are deployed in the highest-need neighborhoods and making difficult decisions to leave neighborhoods where our services aren't as needed anymore," he said.

"As an anti-poverty organization, it just makes sense for us to leave the Upper East Side."

The society, which owns about a dozen properties citywide, also sold two Greenwich Village sites for $33 million several years ago, according to reports.

The group does not plan on selling any additional properties at this point, Ramos said.

The society plans bolster its anti-poverty efforts in the South Bronx, and may even make a real estate investment there, he added.

"We are thinking about building in the South Bronx," Ramos said. "It's in the early stages now. We're kind of exploring it."

Rhinelander's programs include an early-childhood program, a nursery school, an after-school program and a Saturday program for hearing-impaired children.

"We've been in the heart of Yorkville for years, and we would like to continue for generations to come," Santoro said. "We need to."

The fundraising campaign will kick off with a 6 p.m. meeting on Sept. 24 at Rhinelander.