HARLEM — A plan to relocate the College Station post office on 140th Street in Central Harlem will leave elderly and poor residents without a place to access mail and financial services such as money orders, say opponents.
The College Station Post Office at 217 W. 140th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard has more than 12,000 square feet of excess space, said Connie Chirichello, a spokeswoman for the United States Postal Service.
The station only provides retail services after mail carriers and sorters were moved from the station in the last few years. A new post office retail location will be located within the same 10030 zip code and provide the same services in a space that will be approximately 1,400 square feet. The space has not yet been identified.
"For elderly and poor people who depend on the post office the most, moving it out of the area will be a great hardship," said Chuck Zlatkin, legal and political director for the New York Metro Area Postal Union which opposes the shift.
But Chirichello said the move is necessary because the Postal Service has seen a deep decline in the demand for its services. Annual mail volume has dropped by 43 billion pieces in the last five years. The agency, which doesn't receive any tax dollars, is also facing a massive deficit because of the billions it must pay into a health fund for retired workers each year.
As a result, the Postal Service has embarked on a nationwide campaign to sell off properties and downsize its locations, including the landmarked Bronx General Post Office on the Grand Concourse. A recent plan to sell the Old Chelsea Station at 217 W. 18th St. was scrapped after community opposition.
Postal Service officials said no decision about the sale of the College Station location will be made until after hearings on the plan.
"The postal service is facing dire financial challenges," Chirichello said. "We must take the necessary steps to close a $20 billion dollar gap by 2015 in order to regain financial sustainability. To do that, we must tighten our belts not one notch but several."
Zlatkin said College Station often has lines out the door by 9 a.m. showing the demand for the services there.
"If it is moved to a smaller space there will be less service and it will be even more crowded," he said.
On a recent afternoon there were 20 people waiting on line and only two clerks serving customers at the College Station site.
"It's like this all the time," said Jimmie Pate, 58, a librarian, as he stood near the back of the line.
"If it moves to a smaller space it will get even more crowded," said Mario Cruz, 43, a pharmacy tech who was just ahead of Pate. "Soon you are going to have to make an appointment just to go to the post office."
A meeting was scheduled before Community Board 10's economic development committee for Thursday night where the Postal Service was to present its relocation proposal, but it was canceled once the New York Metro Area Postal Union notified the board about the purpose of the meeting.
"They were trying to slip one by the community, but now the community understands this post office is under attack," said Zlatkin, who said the Postal Service should hold a full fledged town hall meeting about the proposed relocation as they have done in other neighborhoods.
Chirichello said the Postal Service is working on finding a new date to make their proposal and considers local community boards acceptable locations.
College Station was built in 1937 and gets its name from a former station located near City College. The brick building has limestone trim, a terrazzo floor, marble wainscoting, and wood trim. There was talk of closing the site in 2009 when it appeared on a list of 700 Postal Service sites to be closed or consolidated, but was spared.
Robert Johnson, 61, a coin collector and seller, uses a walker and travels frequently to College Station to handle business. He said he acquired another box at a nearby post office when College Station was in jeopardy of being closed in 2009 and understands the Postal Service's need to downsize.
"These building are assets and the Postal Service doesn't employ enough people to justify continued ownership," said Johnson. "They have other post offices in the area. This is just the cost of doing business."