Popular East Side Preschool Moves Across Town

| 02 Mar 2015 | 05:02

Park Avenue Christian Church has angered some parents with a sudden move to the Upper West Side

In a move that stunned parents at the start of the new school year, the Park Avenue Christian Church announced it would be moving the day school from its longtime Upper East Side parish location across the park to West 76th Street, home of the Fourth Universalist Society church.

The move prompted an exodus of families who had to scramble to find other arrangements for their kids at the last minute. Reports vary on the number of families that withdrew their kids because of the move, with some reports putting the number as high as 100.

The church said a deal with Extell Development Company to build a 16-story residential tower on the school's former site, which has yet to be finalized, was made for financial reasons.

"The congregation needs the funds for its very survival," said church spokesperson George Artz.

Opponents of the development, including parents who send their children to the $20,000-a-year school, want Community Board 8 to landmark the existing five story parish building at 1010 Park Avenue, preventing any development from occurring. Over a dozen people showed up to the community board's Sept. 18 meeting to voice their support for landmarking the building.

Artz and the church's pastor, Alvin Jackson, along with the congregation, are opposed to landmarking the former school building. "We are not opposed to the landmarking of the church but the designation of the parish house would be of great concern as we try to stabilize our finances," said Artz.

One person with knowledge of the move said the church, which administers the tuition bills for the preschool - formally named the Park Avenue Church Christian Day School - sent bills out in February of this year without indicating the school would be moving to the Upper West Side, something they said the church knew in November 2012.

Artz did not discuss in detail the timing of the tuition bills and when the church knew for sure they'd be moving the school.

"Due to the complicated and delicate nature of the project, we were not at liberty to inform the day school parents until after the congregational vote," said Artz, referring to the vote that church members made on whether to make a deal with Extell.

Artz's company, George Artz Communications, Inc., has represented Extell on other matters in the past. "Extell is a client on some of its projects, not this one," he said.

Artz did confirm that the church has a five year lease on the Fourth Universalist Society facility, but said it's looking for a permanent home for the school on the Upper East Side.

The school's new Upper West Side facility is 16,000 square feet, 9,000 square feet less than the 1010 Park Avenue location. The school was also a week late in starting and when it did open required parents to stay on the premises during the school day due to city permitting issues. The school has since resumed normal preschool operations.

Current and former parents of students who were asked to discuss the church's move declined to speak on the record for this story.

One Upper East Side parent, Kate Lockwood, said that despite the church's move she kept her three-year-old enrolled because the quality of the teachers is unsurpassed in her opinion.

"The teachers are just incomparable in the city," said Lockwood. "I know my child is in the absolute best of hands with these teachers."

However, Lockwood was quick to point out that she doesn't consider the school's new location as equal to the 1010 Park Avenue location.

"Just because I opted to send my children to this school does not in any way indicate that I think the school building is one-to-one with the old building," said Lockwood.