The Haines Borough, Chilkat Valley Preschool and members of the senior community have formed a working group to pursue a collaboration between the preschool and senior center. The group will include two representatives from the preschool, two representatives from the senior community and Borough Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan.
A confluence of recent events brought these two organizations together, working toward a potential agreement. The preschool has been given a deadline from the borough to move out of their current building. Earlier this year, representatives from the Haines School said the preschool might be able to operate in that building. But when teachers and other administrators spoke out against it, the school board voted not to give the preschool space.
Around the same time, the board that managed the Haines senior center for decades ran out of money. They handed the keys over to the borough, which owns the building. Some members of the board were hopeful that the borough would help them financially, to continue managing the center.
“The borough responded back that we couldn’t make that happen right now,” said Public Facilities Director Ryan. “That would have to go the assembly and it was a big request.”
The borough is currently managing the center, and Ryan says there are limits to that. For example, if a group wanted to rent the center on a Saturday, that couldn’t happen without the borough paying an employee overtime.
“So we have been looking for some sort of joint use of this building to increase use and get somebody to manage it that would in their best interest,” Ryan said.
That’s where the Chilkat Valley Preschool comes in. Here’s how Ryan sees it, and this could change during talks with the newly formed working group: The preschool would manage the building, paying for its routine costs, but not paying rent to the borough. The building would serve as a preschool, senior center and community rental space.
On Monday, Ryan and representatives from the preschool and senior center held a meeting to gather input from seniors.
“You have seniors who are enthusiastically in favor of having the little ones there, you have seniors who don’t care. And you have seniors who are passionately opposed to it,” said Susan Tandy, a member of the senior center board.
Tandy is going to be involved in the working group, but not as a board representative. In fact, she says the senior center board decided not to be involved in the working group at all.
“Our board still has some unresolved issues with the borough,” Tandy said. “But another part is, we no longer have a formal interest, like a vote.”
That’s because the board doesn’t manage the building any more. Tandy says it’s sad that the borough wasn’t receptive to the senior board managing the center. But, she’s hopeful about this new direction.
“I have the most perfect little [grandson] that goes to Chilkat Valley Preschool. And nothing would make me happier than him having a lovely home in the same building where I spend a lot of time.”
Tandy says, it would be great to have the children there. But it would be a shame if the seniors were to lose any of their space.
Cindy Jackson agrees. She works for Southeast Senior Services, a tenant of the center that runs the lunch program. She hopes the preschool can be part of the center without infringing on seniors’ lunch and exercise room.
“I’ve worked very hard for two and a half years since I’ve worked here to make this an active place for seniors and enjoyable place and that room does get used,” Jackson said. “And it would just really hamper my ability to do my job and really take away some quality of life for the seniors.”
The preschool doesn’t want that to happen, either. After going through a difficult ordeal with the Haines School, preschool board president Alissa Henry says they want to move somewhere where they are wanted.
“I think it’s just good that we’ve joined forces now to come to the borough and ask for help,” Henry said. “Because it really is their job to support both preschoolers and seniors.”
Henry says the preschool moving into the center would likely require building an addition. She says the sense she has gotten from most seniors is, as long as you don’t take over our space, we’ll support this. But not all the seniors feel that way. Joan Snyder says she uses the center about twice a week. She attended Monday’s meeting about the preschool-senior collaboration.
“Well I spoke absolutely against it,” Snyder said. “Not that I’m against preschool, I’m very much for it. And I think it should be located at the school.”
Snyder said she and other seniors are also worried about the building being too crowded and noisy.
But with a deadline to move out of their current building by the end of this school year, the preschool will continue to pursue an agreement with the borough to move into and manage the senior center. Henry says they hope to accomplish that without putting anybody out of their space.
The working group’s first meeting is Wednesday. Ryan says they plan to draw up of a memorandum of understanding to present to the borough assembly.