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Willis Avenue School Lease Finalized

Harbor Child Care to open in September

The last puzzle piece of the Mineola School District’s reconfiguration plan after years of debate, planning and implementation is in the home stretch.

The Mineola School Board of Education approved the lease of the Willis Avenue School to Herricks-based Harbor Child Care on July 5. Dissimilar to the Cross Street School lease to Solomon Schechter Day School, a K-through 12 institution, Willis Avenue will be leased to a day care center, which caters to children from 12 weeks to 12 years of age.

Willis Avenue will close in September as part of the final piece of the consolidation of the school district. Cross Street closed at the beginning of the 2011-12 academic year.

As the largest nonprofit child care center in Nassau County, Harbor Child Care (HCC) has six locations with more than 800 students and 200 employees between part-and full-time status. A total of 400 students in 17 classrooms are housed at the Herricks location.

Owner/founder Jill Rooney founded HCC in 1972, running the business out of her home before becoming a nonprofit in 1973 “because I wanted to help underserved children,” she says.

Since many districts find it simpler to outsource their universal pre-K program, districts choose a third-party provider such as HCC, giving them the state funding (about $2,700 per child). HCC also operates universal pre-K programs for both the Herricks and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school districts at the Herricks Community Center, with 55 students from each district attending.

HCC has operated the program for Herricks for the past four years and New Hyde Park-Garden City Park for the past five. Harbor is under contract at the Herricks Community Center until June 2013.

The day care center is awaiting license approval from New York State’s Office of Children and Family Services. Rooney expects it to be granted before Aug. 25.

HCC will rent out classrooms on the first floor of Willis Avenue, according to Rooney. Mineola reserved the right to use additional classrooms. District offices will remain on the second floor.

The lease agreement is back-loaded to the second year, giving the day care center time to get going, according to District Superintendent Michael Nagler. The deal could yield $100,000 in the second year if the building is “maxed out.”

“I’m optimistic it’s going to be a good partnership,” he said.

The lease will run for five years, according to Rooney, who called it an “escalating lease” indicating the agreement is based on the number of occupied classrooms.

“We have to occupy at least four in the first year,” Rooney said, continuing, “and eight the second year. In year one, they’re being generous with us until we get our feet [under us].”

Nagler called the execution of the lease “tricky” due to the uncertainty of how much the building will be used. The superintendent indicated the district would not lose money in the first year.

“The district wanted to reserve the right to use some of the space in the future,” Nagler stated. “It took a while to get the particulars down. The first year is a growing year. We’re not going to realize the rent that we will in the second year and to give Harbor an opportunity to build their constituency. It is not their intention to shuffle kids around from other locations.”

Mineola started looking for possible suitors dating back to last school year. After careful consideration and at least three proposals, Harbor Child Care came out on top.

“We have looked for a viable tenant,” Board President William Hornberger said. “We [put out] an RFP (request for proposal). We had vendors, for the lack of a better term, with interest in the building. We’ve had lengthy dialogue with Harbor and they are a known commodity within the area and well-respected.

“What I took from ‘tricky lease’ wasn’t the difficulty of working with Harbor, but with working with difficult aspects of the building and the usage of space, as well as the fact that we have the bond on the building,” he continued.

HCC Marketing and Development Director Tom Rooney said the current center is closed just six days a year. The anticipated start time of the center in the fall is 6:45 a.m., but the needs of parents and students will trump it.

The duo revealed future continuing adult education programs could be implemented, but that those ideas are still on the drawing board. Programs could include parenting seminars, obesity education, etc.

“We’re just going with the needs of the community,” Jill said. “If we need to open earlier, we’ll open earlier. If the community needs us to stay open later, we’ll stay later.”