In Haines, it takes a village to raise a preschool. Over the past few years, the private non-profit Chilkat Valley Preschool has struggled to find a new home. Things started to come together only after the preschool joined forces with the senior center and borough. This week, The Rasmuson Foundation announced it would give the borough a $150,000 grant for the preschool project.
A handful of three-and-four-year-olds are playing pretend on a recent morning at Chilkat Valley Preschool. They don’t know it, but the future of their school just became a whole lot more certain.
“We have exciting news,” said Sierra Jimenez, co-chair of the ‘Solutions for Everyone’ committee.
That committee has spearheaded the preschool-senior center collaboration. The good news Jimenez is referring to is a $150,000 Rasmuson Foundation grant. Before that, the Crossett Fund chipped in $20,000.
“It was the final push that we needed to realize that this project’s gonna happen,” Jimenez said.
The journey up to this point has involved an enormous amount of fundraising, negotiating lease extensions, and a few emotional dead-ends.
“Anybody who has been around Haines for more than five years has seen the preschool go through variations of plans,” Jimenez said. “What they were gonna do when they left the building.”
That’s the borough-owned human resources building, an aging structure that the municipality has wanted the preschool to vacate for several years.
The collaboration between the preschool, senior center and borough started a year ago. The preschool had been working with the school district, hopeful that combining the pre-K program with the K-12 school would be a natural fit. But the school board ultimately voted against letting the preschool in.
Around the same time, the Haines Senior Village Board ran out of money to manage the senior center. The borough took over management.
At that point, both the preschool and senior center were in a place of uncertainty. That’s when the collaboration started.
“There was just a lot of discussions,” said Borough Public Facilities Director Brad Ryan. “And out of those discussions came the idea that we should combine the facility to a more multi-use facility and also then unload the borough’s human resources building. It just seemed like a practical solution to a problem for the seniors and the preschool students.”
“It’s a solution for everyone,” Jimenez said.
But not everyone was on board at first. Some seniors were worried they might lose some of their space or activities. But Ryan says the way the plans are drawn now, that shouldn’t happen.
They plan to build an about 1,400-square-foot addition onto the center. The Rasmuson grant has brought them only $13,000 away from the estimated cost of $467,000.
But it wasn’t just grants from various foundations that helped the preschool get so close to its goal. There was a GoFundMe campaign, fundraiser dinners, and lots of smaller donations.
“It was a little overwhelming to look at how many people were involved in this project and stepped up,” Ryan said. “It was truly a community-wide project.”
The final picture looks like this: the seniors and preschoolers are connected but each have their own space, the preschool manages the building and pays for its own utilities and expenses. The borough would be fairly hands-off, stepping in only when major maintenance is needed.
After the preschool plans gain fire marshal approval, the group will look for a construction contractor. The goal is to break ground and build the addition in the spring.
If all goes as planned, next school year, children will arrive to their first day of preschool in the brand new facility.