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Director of North Hempstead's Yes We Can center resigns

April Brown-Lake, the director of North Hempstead's Yes

April Brown-Lake, the director of North Hempstead's Yes We Can Community Center in New Cassel, resigned, officials said. Brown-Lake is seen here on Sept. 8, 2012. Photo Credit: Steven Sunshine

The director of North Hempstead's Yes We Can Community Center in New Cassel, which has struggled with membership and revenue, resigned last week, officials said.

April Brown-Lake has been the center's director since the $26 million facility opened in September 2012 in the hopes of revitalizing the hamlet of 14,000.

Town Attorney Elizabeth Botwin said in a statement Thursday that Brown-Lake "resigned her position on July 31. The town board will vote on the release and settlement item at the Aug. 11 Board meeting. As with all settlements, we cannot discuss the details due to attorney-client confidentiality."

Brown-Lake, who was to make $94,301.91 in 2015 and received a 3 percent raise in April, said "I have no comment" when reached Thursday by phone.

In the months after the center opened at a reception hosting elected officials and then-NBA player Marcus Camby, residents grew frustrated over the fees. A $30 yearly fee for youth included use of the basketball courts and reading rooms with computers, but not access to the fitness center. Separate exercise and dance classes cost extra.

Instead, some people who used the center said, they could play basketball for free at their high school or at other public parks. In New Cassel, about 18 percent of the population lives under the federal poverty level, according to census records.

Officials hailed the 60,000-square-foot facility as key to the community's revitalization, calling it "state of the art" with two NBA-sized basketball courts and studios for dancing and producing television.

The community dreamed up the center in 2002. Residents said the area has lacked community centers since the closure of nearby ones in the 1970s and 1980s.

Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth was not available for comment. Botwin's statement said, "The Parks Commissioner will be evaluating the personnel needs at the Yes We Can Community Center and then proceed accordingly." Officials said Deputy Parks Commissioner Kelly Gillen "is overseeing operations and the center is running smoothly."

The center opened when Jon Kaiman was North Hempstead supervisor. Bosworth, who took office on Jan. 1, 2014, said last year that the administration would re-evaluate operations and the center was undergoing "growing pains."

Brown-Lake began working for the town in 2004 and has held other roles, including as grants coordinator and town council aide.

Other issues have plagued the center, which has yearly expenses of $1.1 million, according to the town budget, and also houses the town's emergency management center. Flood damage in August 2014 led to the temporary closure of the dance studio and the emergency center. In June, a desk clerk at the community center was arrested and charged with stealing cash from the building's safe.

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