July 27, 2020 By Michael Dorgan
The St. Sebastian’s Parish Center in Woodside has laid off all of its workers and is in the process of reviewing its entire operation.
The parish center, which provides athletic facilities and programming to the community at 39-60 57th St., closed in March due to the statewide shutdown. The facility is expected to reopen in coming months, although in what capacity is still being determined.
The center has remained closed in line with statewide restrictions but the parish decided to let go of all of its staff at the facility in early July. There were seven workers employed at the facility at the time.
The move left many parishioners wondering if the facility had shuttered for good given the center’s history of financial problems.
The center has been plagued with financial difficulties in recent years and has struggled to stay out of the red.
The facility, which features a swimming pool, a fitness center as well as an indoor basketball court, is used by parishioners of all ages. It has been a vital part of the larger Woodside community since it opened in 1968.
The onset of COVID-19 restrictions compounded financial problems at the center and the statewide shutdown forced it to close temporarily in March.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, which oversees Catholic churches and facilities in Queens and Brooklyn, said Monday that the site will re-open once a new business model has been put in place.
The Diocese said that it needs to come up with a new plan in order to make the center financially sustainable.
Father Pat West, who took over as Pastor of St. Sebastian’s Church on July 1, found the center saddled with a debt of $100,000, according to John Quaglione, a spokesperson for the diocese.
Quaglione said that the center has been operating with an annual deficit of between $150,000 and $200,000 in recent years. Fundraising efforts have helped offset a portion of the losses, Quaglione said, but the parish has had to significantly subsidize the center. The parish owns the building on the site.
Quaglione said that the parish is no longer in a position to bail out the center due to its own financial problems.
“The parish has a current deficit of $150,000 for the fiscal year ending on Aug, 31,” Quaglione said, adding that their “accountant has projected a $500,000 deficit for the new fiscal year beginning in September.”
This grim financial predicament has meant that the parish was unable to offer severance pay to its laid-off workers, Quaglione said.
Quaglione said that the parish is now undertaking an extensive review process of the center.
As part of that process, Pastor West has re-hired the center’s former executive director Harry Connor until the end of August to help him gain a complete understanding of the center’s operations. The pastor will work on a new plan with parish leaders to make the facility fiscally independent.
Quaglione said that the center will re-open once a new plan is put in place and COVID-19 restrictions being lifted.
“The St. Sebastian Center is not being closed,” Quaglione said.
“Father West recognizes the current arrangement makes this center unsustainable, and since the COVID-19 pandemic prevents its operation, he plans to use this time to adopt a new business model,” Quaglione said.
Quaglione was unable to give a definitive timeline on when the center might reopen given the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 restrictions on recreational facilities. All gyms and recreational facilities remain closed under Phase 4.
Quaglione said the pastor is waiting for vacation schedules to be completed before he meets with the parish leaders who oversee the center. The meeting will discuss the review process and map out a path forward for the center.
Quaglione said that outstanding memberships will also be discussed at the meeting and all memberships will be honored.
He added that those looking for refunds on their memberships will get them.