Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York Executive Director Linda Lee spoke to the Northwest Bayside Civic Association last Thursday about the group’s plans to purchase the Bayside Jewish Center.
“We have the only Meals on Wheels program that serves Korean food in all of New York City,” Lee said, telling those in attendance about KCS at the meeting, which was held at the Grace Presbyterian Church of New York in Bayside. The agency, which has offices in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, mainly provides programs for seniors, and mostly serves the Korean diaspora of New York City.
When Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Bayside) announced last May that the School Construction Authority planned to purchase the Jewish center, the congregation of which has largely dwindled in recent years, the plan was not greeted warmly. Citing the effect that the proposed eight-story school would have on parking, traffic, property value and other worries, many community members were livid. After a fight led by the civic and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), the SCA dropped the plans last November.
“We don’t want to be left out in the dark,” one woman at the meeting said.
As a member of Community Board 11, Lee remembers what happened when the city tried to buy the center.
“Sitting in on those meetings, I’m kind of aware of what some of the concerns are in the community,” said Lee.
The main concerns expressed by community members were the desires to use the center as a community space and to prevent extra floors being added to it.
“My vision of that community center is a totally intergenerational vision with classes for children, with classes for adults, using it as a center for English as a second language, using it for community meetings,” Queens Quiet Skies President Janet McEneaney said.
In a general way, the nonprofit director appeared to be on the same page as McEneaeney. KCS allows community groups to meet at its senior center in Flushing — which it plans to sell to partially pay for the Bayside Jewish Center.
“We lend it to whoever wants to utilize the space,” Lee said at the meeting, which Avella attended. “We totally plan on doing that as well with the Bayside Jewish Center.”
If KCS buys the building, according to Lee, it will use it from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. And most of the seniors served by the nonprofit, she added, use public transportation.
When a member of the civic asked Lee if KCS plans to build onto the building, the nonprofit executive director said that it was not likely. “In our conversations right now, that’s not on our radar,” she said, while not saying outright that the agency would agree never expand the structure. “I don’t think we would even make plans to do that because we would have to have a good reason for doing that.”
However, Lee said, the building would have to be brought up to compliance and its kitchen would have to be renovated. And because handicapped individuals are served by the nonprofit, other changes would have to be made to the inside of the building to make it easier for them to move through it.
Though the board members of KCS were not at the meeting, they may soon join the discussion about the building. As he mentioned at the meeting, Avella invited the board, Lee, as well as members of the civic to discuss the group’s plans at his office, including any building expansions. Height, Avella said, “is something we should talk about before this goes too far.”
The fear that the nonprofit would not be serving seniors in Bayside, most of whom are non-Korean, if it bought the building was also expressed at the hearing.
“Even though we primarily target and serve the Korean community because of the language barriers for a lot of community members, our doors are open to whoever,” Lee said.
Avella, however, appeared confident that plans both that the community and KCS find agreeable are possible.
“Your main mission is to deal with the Korean population,” the senator said. “I think if we sit down and talk about this that we can work out something that fulfills your mission and still provides a community center.”