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Board Debates Cathedral Nursery School License Agreement

Some trustees hesitant about renewing agreement for another year, concerned about low monthly rent and legality of leasing public property for under market value.

As they've done in years past, trustees again debated whether or not renewing the license agreement between the Village of Garden City and Cathedral Nursery School was approporiate before a formal market value analysis was performed on the four cottages the school is leasing at St. Paul's.

Trustee Brian Daughney, who prefaced his remarks by saying he has nothing against the school and that one of his own children once attended the program, said the public owned property should be opened up to the best bidder.

"There should be no sweetheart deals - maybe this is one and maybe it isn't," he said. "It may be that the school is the best bidder - but we should undertake that process."

Daughney also believes the village could use the space. "We are going to build an addition or significant improvements to the senior center on Golf Club Lane. Maybe we can use the cottages for a temporary home for the seniors while this work is being done. The recreation and cultural affairs department could use the space. The [property owners' associations] could use the space for their meetings. I am sure we can find public uses for the space," he said.

Trustee Nick Episcopia, who has voted against the renewal in the past, said he certainly would not ask the school to leave unless the village had a permanent use for those cottages. "At this point in time I don't know if that exists," he said.

Trustee Andrew Cavanaugh, who favors the renewal, reminded trustees that the village can terminate the license agreement at any time with six months notice.

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Trustees first voted in favor of the license agreement in 2002, permitting the nursery school to temporarily lease the cottages when they no longer had use of the Cathedral House, which, according to Rev. James Cardone, former dean of the Cathedral of the Incarnation, was no longer viable.

"It was supposed to be a temporary home. At what point does it cease to be temporary?" Daughney asked. "And we never increased the rent until the current proposal was made at 2 percent - that seems very low to me, roughly $12,240 per year."

The nursery school pays the village $1,000 a month in rent to use the four cottages, which they extensively renovated on their own dime (approximately $350,000 in renovations and maintenance over the past decade).

The current license agreement expires June 30, 2013. School officials are requesting renewal of that agreement to expire on June 30, 2014. Officials also propose a 2.5 percent fee increase, offering to pay roughly $250 more per year in rent.

Trustee Dennis Donnelly shared some of Daughney's concerns, stating the school's rent is "way under market rate." "Are we subsidizing one nursery school versus others?" he asked, further questioning the legality of renting public property for under market rate. "

Daughney said the lease cost represents only 2 percent of the school's revenue. "Despite that I asked now over the last two years that the village undertake a formal analysis of the market value of the property being leased, my requests have been ignored," he said.

Mary-Alice Greiner, Cathedral Nursery School's financial advisor, said the temporary license had to do with former Dean Cardone's plans of rebuilding something at the Cathedral House. With the unfortunate termination of the dean, Greiner added, plans changed.

"We are grateful for the opportunity to have the cottages," Greiner said, reminding the board that the nursery school is a non-profit organization. "All the money from one year is put into the next ... Our bottom line profit has gone into renovations." She added that the school is interested in increasing to a more reasonable rent but market rate would "not necessarily be practical" for the school to match.

Village resident Leslie Segrete, famous for her design work on TLC's While You Were Out, spoke in favor of the renewal again this year. "When it came time for my son, who is in his fourth year starting in September, there was no question in our minds as to what pre-school our children would attend and that was of course Cathedral Nursery School," said Segrete, who is expecting her second child.

A member of the school's board, Segrete said school officials have cared for those cottages for the past 10 years as though they were a child in their care.

"Money has been spent to enhance and improve every aspect of that building to the highest of Garden City standards," she said. "Every penny spent over the past decade has done its best to improve and increase the value of the village property."

Mayor Don Brudie agreed, stating the school serves a village function. "They restored four cottages ... They provide the appropriate amount of insurance ... They make no demands of us ... What more could we ask for?" he asked.

Daughney shot back: "They are not serving a village function. They are providing a service - at cost - to residents ... We owe a duty to the taxpayers of the village to make sure that we are getting what we should be getting for a village asset."

Debate ensued until trustees unanimously agreed to postpone the agenda item until the next board meeting scheduled for Aug. 16. In the meantime, village auditor James Olivo will perform the "thumbnail analysis."

The request for renewal is made a year in advance for nursery school registration purposes, according to Cathedral Nursery School director Diane Cina. 2012 marks the 43rd anniversary of the school, which serves more than 200 children from Garden City and beyond. For more information call 516-746-3311.

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