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Queens Chronicle

Women’s group says city not acting in good faith

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Posted: Thursday, August 19, 2010 12:00 am

Ann Jawin’s patience is about run out. Jawin’s group, the Center for the Women of New York, has been waiting for nearly three years to move into a building it was promised at Fort Totten Park and she says the city “is not acting in good faith.”

On Monday, Jawin, chairwoman and founder of CWNY, along with the group’s lawyer, architect and financial planner, met with officials from the city’s Department of Design and Construction in the agency’s Long Island City headquarters. The press was not allowed in, but Jawin was interviewed both before and after the session.

“Construction on the old building should have started last September,” she said. “They [DDC] are very discouraging.”

In December 2007, after four years of heated negotiations, the Parks Department agreed to allow the CWNY to use the former bachelor officers’ residence, which is in a landmarked historic district at Fort Totten. The brick structure was built in 1905 and is located next to the Bayside Historical Society headquarters.

The interior contains 10 apartment-style units. The entire building is in serious need of repair. The front porch is collapsing and the interior is without electricity, running water or heat.

Jawin’s group has raised $1.7 million, with the first stage of rehabilitation expected to cost $1.5 million. “Once we clean up the building, do the basics, remove the asbestos, put in new windows and a roof, we can occupy the first floor and then do more fundraising to finish the job,” she said.

The city estimates it will cost $5 million for Jawin’s group to pay for the entire project and she fears that the longer the process is dragged out, the more expensive it will become. She’s also concerned about the structural integrity of the building if the procedure continues to be so slow.

“We are frustrated because we can’t have the building cleaned and it doesn’t make sense for the city to allow it to continue to decay,” she said. “It’s unproductive.”

According to the DDC, CWNY has failed to comply with the programing terms of the license agreement, but would not specify what those terms are. Nevertheless, the city is working with the group to allow it to go forward.

The restoration is subject to Parks’ approval, as well as the city Landmarks Preservation Commission and the State Historic Preservation Office.

Funding has been promised by the Borough President’s Office, Queens City Council members and the state, through Bayside Assemblywoman Ann Carrozza’s office. The money, however, cannot be released without the official approvals in place.

Jawin was told at the meeting that the DDC has to finish its report, then it goes to the various agencies for approval.

Despite the delays, Jawin said she believes the atmosphere between her group and the city has improved somewhat. She will next meet with the DDC on Nov. 16.

Plans for the CWNY headquarters call for it to be used as a conference, resource and learning center. There will be an area devoted to women’s history, workshops on welfare, job training and support groups. Other programs will be held on health, nutrition and park-related themes.

The battle over the building between Parks and the women’s group became so intense that it was eventually mediated by a state Supreme Court judge. The city agency at first said the group’s mission did not meet the requirements for siting it in a park. Later, it demanded that 80 percent of the programs be on park-related topics such as tree disease identification, yoga and fine arts.

Jawin believes that when complete, the center will be the only full-service building devoted to women’s rights and equal opportunity in the metropolitan area.

People against the fort location note that it is not centrally located in the borough and is hard to reach by public transportation.

The CWNY office is now located at Borough Hall in Kew Gardens.

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