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Clockwork Learning Center Seeks Holiday Miracle

School informed last week it will be evicted from Mount Pleasant Avenue building Jan. 31 leaving parents scrambling for alternatives.


The families and teachers at Clockwork Learning Center in West Orange are hoping for a Christmas Miracle.

Parents, students and teachers recently were told the school would have to close its doors on Jan. 31 when Morristown-based Hampshire Real Estate Company will evict them.

Parents of the 70 families who send their children to the school are now scrambling to figure out where to send their kids for the remainder of the year. Many are worried they won’t find open seats for their children at other schools. Some are considering hiring nannies while others may now have to stay home with their children, at least until they can make suitable and affordable arrangements.

The director of the school, Shanda Babbitt, of Long Valley, has even called the realty company and offered to take over the lease from David H. Lyme, owner of the school and four other New Jersey-based Clockwork Learning Centers — at least through June. Her requests have been ignored.

“I am trying to keep everyone’s spirits up and am doing everything I can to keep all of our families and staff members here,” says Babbitt, “I am hoping for a miracle!”

Parents were notified last Monday of the situation and are behind Babbitt and her quest to take over the building’s lease.

School officials say they are even open to going month to month on a lease while having the building, located at 627 Mount Pleasant Ave., shown to prospective buyers before and after school hours.

Calls placed by Patch to Hampshire Real Estate Company were unanswered.

The closing has left many school employees, including Trisha Gerard of Belleville, who has taught there for 13 years, asking, “Why are they doing this in January?”

“Why can’t they at least wait until June?” Gerard said. “We have infants who are finally just adapting to being away from their parents, and to their new teachers and kindergarteners who now won’t be graduating from here at the end of the year. This is so disruptive.”

Parents Rudy and Marie Altenor of West Orange, who have two young children attending the school, are very upset.

“We love the school and picked it for its curriculum, amenities, location, and pricing, as well as for its amazing teachers, who treat our children like they would treat their own,” said Rudy Altenor.

“We even recommended the school to my nephew and now need to make new arrangements for all three children,” he added.

Rose Registry of West Orange said her young son is thriving at the school and, “the community needs this school.”

“I hope someone can help us save the school,” she said.

Alan Sanders December 26, 2012 at 12:44 PM
With this impacting on the town so strongly is there no government function to try to intervene?
Christine December 26, 2012 at 01:28 PM
Zadies of the oranges is great.
Sherley Jean-Baptiste December 26, 2012 at 03:15 PM
They should all transfer to First Mountain Pre-School on Pleasant Valley Way, THE place for pre-schoolers.
Kate December 26, 2012 at 04:41 PM
First Mountain Preschool is an amazing, friendly, & enriching learning environment for children ages 2.5 - 5. Open 8am - 5:30pm 270 Pleasant Valley Way West Orange, NJ. 973-243-6768 - call for a tour :) www.firstmountainpreschool.com
Jackie Schatell December 26, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Here is another comment I received via email... There are A LOT of empty buildings in west orange!!! Tell the school to look over on north field by the zoo on the other side of the road. Then they should tell the land lord to go to hell! Such a nasty thing to do!!!!
Meghan Evans Bereza December 26, 2012 at 09:39 PM
I love how this article makes Clockwork seem as if it is the victim. The writer must not be privy to the information that the owner, Mr. Lyme is apparently in the rears on his rent to the property owner. They are being locked out for non-payment. Also, had Ms. Schatell looked up Clockwork on the Better Business Bureau website she would have found that there are eleven complaints (many for non-payment) which all but one have gone unanswered. The owner, as best I can tell by my research is a habitual non-payer. As a parent of a Clockwork child I am very disappointed that the center is closing, but am happy I was able to find a new school for my child quickly. I am thoroughly upset that Mr. Lyme opted to give the parents notification of the schools closing in a time frame which would not afford us the ability to give our thirty days notice thus forcing us to stay in a deteriorating situation or lose our one month deposit of $1195. He clearly stated to the parents "no refunds". I appreciate that you are trying to write a holiday themed fluff feel good piece, but please make sure people know that the property owner is not the Scrooge of this story.
Oriana Palumbo December 27, 2012 at 02:39 AM
Parents with children there saw that school fall apart once it was bought from Suburban Hills. Mr. Lyme also appeared on channel 9's version of Ask Asa for holding TWO months deposit in his Manhattan location and only returned the money after appearing on the show despite the parents asking for it back for months. In one year, my youngest son had 8 teachers there!! Clearly I waited too long to move him but better late than never and many of us left over a year ago. Mr. Lyme let that school go unfortunately and everyone there knew that. We're now at First Mountain and so happy we moved there! Oriana
woresident December 27, 2012 at 03:32 AM
I imagine that there are many guidelines/regulations for opening a child care center...number and size of rooms, bathrooms, security, etc. I think it would take many months and money to move to a new location
woresident December 27, 2012 at 03:35 AM
I disagree on government intervention. It is not the government's right to demand that a landlord continue leasing a building to someone who is in arrears because parents need childcare. As a parent, this would have been incredibly stressful and I would have been really annoyed but I wouldn't expect government interference.
Keith Dent December 27, 2012 at 03:44 PM
The other victims are Chanda and her staff, some of whom that have been there for 20 years. It is horrible when owners of these type of businesses don't think about the families and the importance of childcare and how it relates to sustainability in this state. When ownership changed hands the first time, it was without warning. And now this, I really feel for fellow parents. My kids went to that school for a combined 9 years.
Proud Parent January 02, 2013 at 03:16 PM
Well said, Keith. I feel horribly for Shanda, and her amazing staff. Altough students can find a place to go, where are teachers going to find a job????
Nicol Bell January 03, 2013 at 03:41 PM
They are not all preschoolers. Some are too young for that school and some are too old.
Nicol Bell January 03, 2013 at 03:46 PM
AMEN, Meghan!! My son graduated from there last June and I was SO glad to get him out of there!! I had to remove my daughter abruptly in the winter of 2011 becuase the owner decided to fire the long-time director and a number of teachers, including the infant room teacher that my 10 month-old LOVED, right before Christmas! I was actually just about to sue them for the remainder of my security deposit (only $100 but it was the principle) because they decided to tell me, as my son was leaving, that they don't give refunds on security deposits and at that point his monthly tuition was less than the deposit I'd originally left! I feel VERY badly for the parents and teachers at Clockwork but I TRULY hope that David Lyme reaps what he has sown!!
Nicol Bell January 03, 2013 at 03:51 PM
EXACTLY, Keith, Proud Parent and Meghan! Some of the parents of the teachers who were abruptly fired in the winter of 2011 by the owner removed their children from the school and hired the teachers to come into their homes to care for and teach their children. Maybe some of these parents will ban to together and do the same. Some of them (especially the school's cook) will be in dire straits without the benefits (though I wonder if he kept those up), but at least having the continued income will help a little.
Jackie Schatell January 16, 2013 at 11:21 PM
Hi all. I got a really kind note from someone at Tutor Time in Livingston. It says that the school feels for the school and the families going through this unexpected change. They also want the parents of Clockwork know that several of the families from Clockwork have enrolled at Tutor Time and that there is still limited space in their classes, if anyone wants to check out the school. This might be a nice option to keep friends together. FYI, the school accepts infants through kindergarten-aged children. There are also a few teacher and teacher assistant positions available if any of the staff is looking for employment. Email resumes to: ttlivingston@earthlink.net. Parents can call the school for more information or to set up a tour to see the school, which is located at 650 South Orange Ave, Livingston, NJ 07039. (973)758-1070.

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