School for mentally disabled children faces eviction

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A Monsey preschool for nearly 160 developmentally disabled children could soon be evicted from a former Shul on Route 306. An acting state Supreme Court justice ruled that the owners of the Monsey Jewish Center can evict the Hebrew Academy for Special Children.

Academy lawyer Mary Marzolla said she has petitioned the Appellate Division to freeze the eviction until the academy’s appeal of Justice William Nelson’s decision can be heard.

The Monsey Jewish Center moved to evict the academy because it intends to sell the building and needs the money to build a synagogue in Montebello, said Joel Scheinert, the lawyer for the Monsey Jewish Center.

Caught in the middle are children who have a variety of developmental disabilities, ranging from Down syndrome to autism.

Yehudit Gelbein, a preschool teacher, said her 4 1/2 -year-old son, Aryeh Leib, has learned to walk and talk under the guidance of the Hebrew Academy for Special Children.

The child has Down syndrome and has attended the academy since he was 22 months old. She said his fine and gross motor skills have improved tremendously.

“For my son, it’s been amazing watching him become a real social being,” she said. “We have seen remarkable and dramatic advances in his overall development.”

Gelbein said the academy has been a perfect setting for her son and children of other families.

“I don’t know what we will do,” she said. “It would be a crime to throw these kids out of school. The kids are losing out.”

The academy contended that the synagogue breached an agreement to provide three months’ notice prior to eviction on June 30, 2006, or later, Marzolla said.

The academy claims it was never told that the lease would end on Aug. 31. The academy says in legal papers that the synagogue claimed a potential buyer wanted the school to stay.

Nelson dismissed the academy’s lawsuit, saying the synagogue acted within the lease. Supreme Court Justice Howard Miller stayed the eviction until the Appellate Division could consider the issue.

The academy, which was established in 1964, operates six preschool programs in New York and provides its services for free.

The academy moved from Chestnut Ridge into the synagogue building in 2000 after 13 months of internal building construction to make it usable for its clientele.

The academy renewed its lease in 2005, with plans of moving into its own facility in 2008. The academy bought property in 2005 in Pomona.

“There is no other space that exists in the county that would allow the academy to comply with state regulations,” Marzolla said. “The children shouldn’t be in jeopardy until the legal issues have been resolved.”

Scheinert, the lawyer for the Monsey Jewish Center, said the academy had a one-year lease and it wasn’t going to be renewed because the building was being sold.

Congregation Birchos Yosef plans to buy the property to construct housing. Monsey Jewish Center, a conservative shul, closed down as the neighborhood became more Orthodox.

“As part of the deal, we have to get the place empty,” Scheinert said. “The lawsuit has delayed the sale. The Monsey Jewish Center needs the money for a new building.”

TJN



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