Merchant Marine Academy alumni foundation's eviction halted

Seven people have been appointed to an advisory

Seven people have been appointed to an advisory board that will be examining instruction and management at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point. (Feb. 22, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas)

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's planned eviction of its alumni foundation was temporarily halted Tuesday after both sides appeared in federal court.

The USMMA Alumni Association and Foundation, which has been housed on the Kings Point campus rent-free for 56 years, filed suit against the academy in the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip on Monday after the school moved to evict it, citing budget and space constraints.

Both sides appeared before U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Bianco, who said that the eviction, which was scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday, should be postponed for a week to give both parties time to make additional filings, according to the foundation's lawyer, Ryan D. Mitola of Garden City.

The two sides are due back in court Monday.

The foundation has argued that its eviction from the campus, coming at the request of new Superintendent James Helis, is designed to punish the foundation for being an independent voice on campus.

The foundation raises millions of dollars for the academy, which cannot solicit donations for itself, and provides mentoring and assistance to current and former students, said Jim Tobin, president of the foundation.

But the academy has said it asked the foundation to move due to impending renovations on the building. It also said it decided to ask the foundation to pay rent of about $145,000 a year "to avoid charges of preferential treatment."

The academy issued a statement Tuesday saying it agreed to "delay enforcing its request for the Alumni Association and Foundation to move from the Fitch Building pending a hearing on Monday," but would not comment further on pending litigation.

Meanwhile, the foundation, which had begun boxing its belongings in preparation for the move, is continuing its search for new space off-campus.

"You've always got to have plan B and C, so we are looking at some places just in case," Tobin said. "I would hope that very soon I don't have to look."

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