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Women’s group gets new home at Fort Totten

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It was neither an outright victory nor a total loss for the Queens Women’s Center last week, when a State Supreme Court judge ordered the group to leave its Fort Totten home by June 15 in exchange for another building on the property.

But in order to move elsewhere on the sprawling fort the nonprofit must produce roughly $500,000 upfront for repairs to its future home.

The upside, women’s center founder Ann Jawin said, is that the new building would be a permanent home for her group, which also occupies some space in Borough Hall. State Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) has pledged $200,000 to get the fund-raising ball rolling, Jawin said.

“That’s what we’re faced with,” said Jawin, a Douglaston resident. “The only building they’ll allow up to take is one that is now presently uninhabita­ble.”

A spokeswoman for the city Parks Department insisted Tuesday there were no other available buildings at Totten for the women’s center, which she said must come up with the cash to repair the building that has been offered.

“If the money isn’t upfront, there’s no guarantee the work can be done,” spokeswoman Jane Rudolph said.

State Supreme Court Judge Duane Hart in Jamaica made his decision about the Queens Women’s Center’s fate Friday, when he ordered the center to obey its final eviction deadline of June 15 and helped broker the deal in which the city offered the group an alternative building.

The Queens Women’s Center currently occupies a building under Fire Department control and was offered a different building which sits on the Parks side of the fort.

Jawin and her group, which was founded in 1987 and serves between 100 and 150 women a week, have been fighting to stay in Building #401 at Fort Totten since the city first issued eviction notices to the group last fall.

The group has sunk thousands of dollars into rehabilitating Building #401, Jawin said. When the center first took over the building in 1997, she said it needed extensive work on its plaster walls and ceilings as well as the plumbing.

Now the Douglaston activist said she and her group will turn their 15th Anniversary Dinner, scheduled to be held June 14 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel at LaGuardia, into a big fund-raiser. It is the only major fund-raiser planned so far to help the women’s center defray the cost of repairing Building #201, its new home.

Since its original eviction deadline of Dec. 13, the group has flouted each deadline and refused to move until both sides went to State Supreme Court in March.

The city was slated to take control of Fort Totten from the federal government earlier this year, a move city authorities contend was delayed by the Queens Women’s Center’s refusal to vacate its Fire Department-controlled building.

The U.S. Army decommissioned the Civil War-era Fort Totten in 1995, and the property was expected to become city parkland.

Jawin had battled the city over the eviction on the grounds that her group was supposed to be given a chance to apply for permanent status at the fort. City authorities have said Jawin was clearly informed that her tenancy at the fort was temporary.

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 center, one of four nonprofit groups at the fort, was the only one told to leave. The Bayside Historical Society and the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association have leases directly with the U.S. Army, while the Professional Design Center, an architects’ group, is in a Parks Department building and does not have to vacate.

For more information on the Queens Women’s Center dinner dance call 793-0672 or 352-7225.

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

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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