Fire Dept. Orders Closing of Fort Totten Womens Center – QNS.com

Fire Dept. Orders Closing of Fort Totten Womens Center

The fire Dept. has ordered the queens womens Center (QWC) to leave its Fort Totten premises on Fri., Dec. 13, Ann Jawin, the centers chairperson, told a recent meeting of Community Board 7.
Even a temporary closing of the Bayside centers offices could cause the QWC to suspend operations, by placing it in technical violation of agreements with City and State funding sources, said Jawin.
The QWC is currently using Bldg. 401, which is in the area designated for the proposed Fire Dept. training center.
A concerned CB 7 Chairperson Gene Kelty has already helped arrange an emergency meeting for Fri., Nov. 30, with the Fire and Parks depts., and the Economic Development Corp. Other organizations currently occupying buildings on this historic base, include the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Assoc. and the Professional Design Center of the American Institute of Architects, which are located in areas scheduled to be under the jurisdiction of the Parks Dept.
The womens group was ordered to vacate Building 401, by 5 p.m., on Dec. 13, in a letter from Deputy Fire Commissioner Thomas Fitzpatrick. Adding a note of finality, his letter tersely informed Jawin that, "all property belonging to your organization must be removed and the building must be left clean and free of all debris and rubbish. You will be required to give all building keys to Chief Lawrence Connors of FDNY at this time."
Adding to the centers problems, Jawin said that it recently resumed operation of its services, since programs were suspended on Sept. 11. "Its impossible to expect that we can again expect to disrupt these womens lives," she said, "without the justification of another terrorist act or national emergency."
According to the Queens Borough Presidents office, officers of the queens womens Center knew that this would inevitably happen, because they signed an interim lease never a permanent one when they took over this building in October 1998. This agreement also stipulated that once the city took over the property from the federal government, sublease holders would have to leave in 30 days. The agreement contained no guarantee that the lease would be renewed or extended.
But Jawin said that her group had been told that no organization could be considered permanent without a formal application process. "to date," she said, "the Queens Womens Center has never been notified that the process has begun. We know of no official guidelines that were distributed."
Jawin said that the center provides a needed community service. Its 35 staffers and instructors provide training, counseling, and support groups for an estimated 110 northeast queens women per week. Jawin said that the center also gives job training courses for women compelled by fiscal constraints to return to a highly constricted workforce.
She is asking for a six-month extension for the center in order for her organization to consider its response to the order, as well as examine options available for the women involved in its program. She told CB 7 that the QWC does not now have a place in which to move its activities, computers, equipment, and furniture. further, she said that should her center be shuttered, "we would violate our Memoranda of Understanding upon which much of this funding is based."
The QWC was founded in 1987 to help meet the needs of women and to advance, by advocacy, the cause of womens rights. the center accommodates an average 110 visitors per week, in programs ranging from computers to literacy proficiency.
At its offices in Queens Borough Hall and Learning Center in Fort Totten, the QWC offers such services as a legal assistance clinic, job readiness workshops, money management clinics, as well as support groups for women in marital transition, victims of domestic violence, and for those in emotional crisis.
The Center also features a free "Women & Work" program as a collaborative project with the womens Studies Dept. of Queens College. Women of limited means, entering the competitive job market, receive expert guidance in career searching, resume preparation, and interviewing techniques.
The Center also operates a thrift shop designed to help women needing suitable clothes for job interviews.
"We sought this space," Jawin told the CB 7 members, "because there is no other group that offers services, training, and acts as an advocate for women in northeastern Queens."
Compounding the problem, the Citys takeover of approximately 90 acres of the historic Fort Totten grounds has been conducted via a variety of programs and regulations administered by the federal Dept. of the Interior, Education, and Human Services. Some of these rules are governed by laws enacted by Congress in 1948, making the proposed tenancy of the QWC even more difficult, according to Councilman Mike Abel.
A military presence will remain on Fort Totten, with the Army Reserves retaining approximately 48 acres, adjacent to a 9.6-acre Coast Guard facility.
Adding to the pressure of choosing tenants for this park will be a host of new facilities: the Fire Dept. will construct a new state-of-the-art 40-acre training center, and the Parks Dept. will develop a nearly 50-acre park featuring a new North Park, a picturesque waterfront esplanade, historic battlements, parade grounds, as well as a large restaurant.
In addition, the parade grounds will be upgraded. Its two soccer fields will be renovated to include automatic irrigation and night game lighting systems. Another sector will provide a play area for young children, and also retain the existing swimming pool for public use.
Current plans also call for up to 50 full, seasonal and part-time Parks Dept. employees to work at the Fort Totten park area. They will provide maintenance, pool operations, security and general administrative services.
Since the Fort Totten park area is expected to attract an estimated 115,000 visitors annually, the City DOT has already been asked to schedule a traffic study to curb anticipated heavy pedestrian and vehicular volumes.
CB 7s Land Use Chairman Adrian Joyce, who has headed the Boards takeover operations since the programs inception, told The Queens Courier earlier this year that rules involving the proposed tenancy were not only governed by federal rules, but by the need to upgrade Fort Tottens archaic infrastructure, including a new water supply system, a reconstruction of the storm and sanitary sewer systems, and the building of new public streets.

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