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Red Hook Day Care Seeks Mayor's Help, Again, To Avert Closure

By Nikhita Venugopal | February 4, 2016 3:48pm
 The day care is located at 595 Clinton St. in Red Hook.
Strong Place For Hope Day Care in Red Hook
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RED HOOK — A city-funded day care in Red Hook may be forced to close after its landlord made a deal to sell the Clinton Street building for $6.4 million — unless Mayor Bill de Blasio intervenes, its leaders say.

Strong Place For Hope Day Care, at 595 Clinton St. near Mill Street, is a nonprofit day care that serves about 100 students ages 2 to 5 years old from Red Hook, Carroll Gardens and surrounding communities.

School officials learned late last year that building owner Jacbel Realty LLC had struck a deal to sell the property where the school has been located since 2012.

The mayor, who has rescued the day care in the past, may be able to stop the sale, said Lorraine Pennisi, the executive director of Strong Place's three Brooklyn locations. 

Since the city holds the lease for the property, which expires in April 2017, it has the option to purchase the property for the sale price of $6.4 million from the landlord, she said. 

But that decision needs to be made by March 26 — 90 days from the purchase date — and the city has not made its plans known. 

"Our only hope is that the City Council and the mayor decide to save us," Pennisi said.

In an email to DNAinfo, Administration for Child Services (ACS) spokesman Christopher McKniff said, “[W]e are actively working with our partner city agencies to review all options for this particular site to ensure we can continue providing quality early care and education services to this community.”

The mayor's office did not respond to request for comment. A petition addressed to de Blasio has 686 signatures so far.

From the street, the building is easy to mistake for one of Red Hook's many low-rise warehouses, with only the day care's blue and green awning breaking the monotony.

But on the inside, the 22,000 square-foot space holds six classrooms — two for universal pre-k — a library, a multi-purpose room, an additional 5,000 square-foot rooftop play area and a commercial kitchen that provides food for all the students and employees.

The school has been located on Clinton Street since 2012. In the same year, it expanded to two other locations in Boerum Hill and Park Slope.

The day care first opened in 1970 at 56 Strong Place in Cobble Hill but was pushed out of that space in 2004. At the time, it was then-councilman de Blasio who championed the school and helped them find an alternate space on Hoyt Street. 

"He really helped us. He helped [ACS] find us another spot," Pennisi said. 

Strong Place day care, however, was forced to leave the second location as well, and finally ended up on Clinton Street.

Now in its third place in almost 12 years, Strong Place has become "essential" to the community, its school leaders say.

"Red Hook is a high-need community," said site director Olive Cosbert. "We're the only affordable day care center in the neighborhood."

City Councilman Carlos Menchaca has met with the school directors and is working with the ACS and the de Blasio administration to find a solution.

"We're going to explore every option," Menchaca told DNAinfo on Thursday morning, including a possible purchase of the property by the city.

"There's no doubt that we need to keep this day care in Red Hook."

Menchaca is planning to gather more information on the situation and keep the community informed. 

“Some people think that it’s over," he said. "We have time."

But with the March deadline approaching, Pennisi is hoping the city will move quickly to save Strong Place.

"It's so necessary to the community," she said. 

Property owner Jacbel Realty LLC could not be reached for comment and it was not immediately clear who the building was being sold to.

While Strong Place has only occupied the space since 2012, its building was previously been used as a school for several decades.

The walls of the hallway are adorned with artwork from students and each classroom is named after a different children's storybook, from "The Red Balloon" to "The Very Hungry Caterpillar."

On Thursday, one class of students spent the morning learning about Lunar New Year celebrations. Other rooms were filled with educational posters on everything from insects and birds to maps and building construction.   

The day care also prepares all its meals in-house, from Italian wedding soup to scrambled eggs and spaghetti — a fact that Pennisi is proud to say creates a nurturing learning environment for the children. 

"People think 'day care' and they think 'babysitters,'" she said. "We are not babysitters. We're educators."