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Jawin steps up efforts to move women’s center to Fort Totten

The Center for the Women of New York President Ann Jawin said she hopes a meeting held this week between herself, elected officials’ representatives and the city will help to resolve years of red tape she said has prevented her group from moving into a building in Fort Totten in Bayside.

Jawin and representatives from City Council members Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village) met with the city Department of Design and Construction Monday in an effort to hash out what the Kew Gardens-based center needs to do to move into the landmarked house at 207 Totten Ave.

Officials from the center, a nonprofit now operating in a small room in Queens Borough Hall, had expected to move into the Fort Totten building years ago but have been held up by what Jawin said were tedious requests for her to land additional financial backing and requests to fine-tune plans for the building, such as putting the wheelchair ramp at a slightly different angle.

“They keep saying we can’t move in there unless they know we have the money to keep it going,” Jawin said. “We have about $1.7 million, which is more than enough to clean the first floor, get rid of asbestos, paint it, stop the decay, get the windows fixed, get electricity. Why would they not want this to happen?”

A DDC spokesman said the delay Jawin cites stems from the CWNY failing to comply with the terms of the license agreement she entered into with the city Parks Department to restore a city-owned buildind. The spokesman did not specify what the failure entailed.

“Nonetheles, the city is working with the group to allow CWNY to go forward with its proposed project,” spokesman Craig Chin wrote in an e-mail.

The center provides a number of services and programs for women, including job workshops, career counseling, legal assistance and support groups.

Halloran said he fully supports the CWNY moving into the Fort Totten building.

“They do wonderful work for the women of our community, and they are working to save an historic building in Fort Totten, to boot,” Halloran said.

The DDC Monday laid out a schedule for Jawin to go to the various agencies and community groups that need to green-light the center’s plans. Jawin said she expects to bring the plans to Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski within the next several weeks and then will go to the city Parks Department commissioner, Community Boards 7 and 11 and the city Landmarks Preservation Commission.

After the city had forced the center from its former location in Fort Totten in 2002 to make room for a city Fire Department facility, Jawin took the city to court and was awarded the house at 207 Totten Ave. Until the center is able to renovate the roomy Fort Totten building, it will remain in Room 325 of Queens Borough Hall, which her employees said is too small for the programs they run.

“I’m very restricted at Borough Hall,” Jawin said. “I have a one-room office with no privacy.”

Jawin received $900,000 from state Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Little Neck) when he was on the Council for the renovations as well as close to $600,000 from Assemblywoman Ann-Margaret Carrozza (D-Bayside) and about $200,000 from Borough President Helen Marshall. She will not be able to access these funds until receiving final approval from the city and state.

Despite these funds, Jawin said the city has told her she needs additional financial backing before it gives its stamp of approval for the center to move in there.

“They went from saying it would take $500,000 to renovate the place when I first got the house in 2002 and now they’re saying $5 million,” Jawin said. “The building is rotting and their concern is that they don’t want to start something that’s not going to be finished. They would not be harmed by starting it and not finishing it.”

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e-mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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