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Control over Fort Totten handed to city Fire Dept.

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The federal government has finally handed over control of Bayside’s Fort Totten to the city after a six-month eviction battle with the non-profit Queens Women’s Center ended last month, an Fire Department spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Queens Women’s Center founder and Douglaston resident Ann Jawin said her group has been struggling to maintain its programs after losing its spacious two-story Fort Totten home and being reduced to using a small room at Borough Hall.

The Civil War-era Fort Totten, which was originally scheduled to be taken over by the city in January and split between the city Fire and Parks departments, was decommissioned by the U.S. Army in 1995. To help maintain the fort between 1995 and the city’s takeover of the property, several non-profit groups — including the Queens Women’s Center — were allowed to move in and use buildings on the land.

But for the Fire Department to take final control of the fort, the agency said all of its buildings had to be vacant, and when the Queens Women’s Center was asked to leave its Fire Department building in December, the group refused. The dispute was eventually resolved in State Supreme Court in May, with Jawin agreeing to move her group out of Totten in exchange for a future home on the Parks Department side of the property.

Less than a month after the Queens Women’s Center honored its June 15 eviction deadline, the FDNY assumed control of Fort Totten, FDNY spokeswoman Jennifer Pass said, but few details about the transfer were available as of press time Tuesday.

“Currently we have control of Fort Totten,” Pass said during a telephone interview Tuesday.

The Queens Women’s Center was founded in 1987 and provides a range of services to women and families, including job training, domestic violence programs, counseling, funding and training for women who want to start their own business, among other things.

The Fire Department has said Jawin was informed she would ultimately be evicted when she first took over the space in 1997. Jawin has said she fought the sudden eviction notice because she expected the group to get a chance to apply for permanent status at its Totten headquarters.

Instead, under the deal worked out before State Supreme Court Judge Duane Hart in May, the Queens Women’s Center agreed to leave Building No. 401 by June 15 in exchange for the chance to move into Building No. 207, which is under Parks Department control.

The deal requires the Queens Women’s Center to raise about $500,000 so the Parks Department can renovate the dilapidated building. The Parks Department is requiring the women’s center to have all of the $500,000 in hand before any renovations begin.

State Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) has already pledged $200,000 to help the group’s fund-raising efforts.

Jawin said Monday the group is struggling to get any space in which to run programs such as domestic violence support groups and workshops. The Queens Women’s Center’s room at Borough Hall is packed with boxes and items moved from its Fort Totten building.

“I’ve been in no-man’s-land,” said Jawin, who said she has been trying to book time for Queens Women’s Center activities in the Fort Totten Chapel, a building often used by community groups. “I’m very frustrated.”

Jawin, who said the group has had little time to fund-raise for its new building, said she has gotten no response to her request for time at the chapel.

“It’s three weeks I’ve asked for it and nothing has happened,” she said. The group’s space at Borough Hall is virtually unusable, she said.

“We’ve got all our cartons and everything jammed in there and it’s very frustrating,” she said.

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:07 pm, October 10, 2011
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