For more than 46 years the Warbasse Nursery School in Coney Island has provided early childhood education for children in southern Brooklyn. Now, the program is in danger of disappearing after the lease was abruptly terminated by a co-op board that wanted to jack up the rent by 400 percent, according to parents and school officials.
“They are killing the school. It’s a shame,” said parent Helen Golduber. “This is the best school in Brooklyn. It takes in everybody. Some of the children have special needs and no one is made to feel different.”
The school’s comptroller MaryAnne Marman said the co-op board wanted to increase the rent from $5 per square foot to $20. The nursery had been negotiating for months to find a more manageable price. Then, in December, the school was notified the board voted not to extend their lease and gave them a month to move out.
After receiving pushback from parents and school officials, the lease was extended until August to allow the nursery to finish their spring and summer programs. However, Marman said the addition eight months is still not enough time for the school to find a new location.
“It’s not financially doable,” Marman said. “It’s going to cost us almost $20,000 just to move the school. Forget about what it’s going to cost for us to make it fit the code for the Department of Education and the Department of Buildings.”
The co-op board did not return a phone call requesting comment on why they terminated the lease. According to Golduber, who lives in the 24-story building at West 5th Street and Neptune Avenue where the school is located, the board said the decision to terminate the lease had nothing to do with the rent. They claimed the space was in need of renovations that would take at least two years. However, Golduber said the board has been tight-lipped about the issue and not released minutes from their meeting for more than four months. Golduber explained the minutes are usually available within a month.
“It’s our opinion that they want to keep this quiet,” she said. “They are saying this is about construction but no one believes them. I think it’s about money.”
Parents have rallied to save the school. They launched a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $200,000 to cover the costs of relocating. So far, the effort has raised only $4,840. Parents have also been out collecting signatures for a petition that calls for the lease to be extended so the nursery has more time to find a new home. School staff and parents are also meeting with elected officials next week.
Noelle Pellett, whose 5-year-old son has an IEP, a document issued to students with special learning needs, said her son has made enormous progress since she enrolled him at Warbasse.
“My son has grown so much from when he started here. He’s met every learning goal in the time frame expected,” Pellett said. “I think by the time he’s in first grade, he’s not going to need the same services because of the foundation they’ve built for him here.”
Warbasse has seats for 75 children, half of whom have special needs, according to Marman. The classrooms and hallways blossom with decorations — colorful paper chains, painted murals, portraits of the kids. Cubbies packed with little shoes and small jackets carry the names of the students. The children, barely taller than your knees, scurry around the room or huddle diligently over projects.
Golduber said she still hasn’t told her 4-year-old daughter that Warbasse might be closing its doors.
“I haven’t found the words to tell her that she will not be finishing school at Warbasse,” she explained. “For me, it means a real big change in my daughter’s life and I’m worried she’s not ready for it.”