Teacher Alissa Henry leads preschoolers in an activity before snack time during the first week of school. (Emily Files)

Teacher Alissa Henry leads preschoolers in an activity before snack time during the first week of school in the new addition to the Haines Senior Center. (Emily Files)

Haines’ only privately-run preschool program had a long journey to get where it is today. For years, the early education nonprofit tried to find a new home, without success. A plan finally came together last year, in collaboration with the borough and local senior center.

Thirteen children started preschool at the beginning of September in a brand new building.

“It felt really surreal at first,” said lead teacher and former preschool board president Alissa Henry.

Last year, Henry was teaching some of these same children in the borough-owned Human Resources building. The borough wanted the preschool to move out of the aging structure. It extended the preschool’s deadline to leave multiple times.

“Definitely there were times when it was scary and there was a lot of turmoil and it was stressful how we were gonna make it happen,” Henry said.

One of the low points came at the end of 2015, when the Haines School Board voted not to give the program space in the school building. The preschool leaders saw it as a natural fit. But school teachers and the interim superintendent said they simply didn’t have room. Henry says despite the dead ends, they didn’t lose hope.

“It’s such a solid organization and there’s such great support for it that I knew we’d make something work,” Henry said.

Shortly after the school board’s decision, a new plan started to form. Borough staff brought the preschool together with another struggling organization– the senior center. The idea was for the preschool to build an addition onto the center and take over management of the building.

With the new collaboration, a new committee was formed, called Solutions for Everyone. The group took on the effort of raising $400,000 for the preschool addition.

There were lots of community fundraisers and a couple major grants. The Rasmuson Foundation chipped in $150,000.

Construction started in spring of 2017. And now, school is in session.

“Thinking back at all we’ve been through trying to get a new building — yeah, it’s been hard to believe,” Henry said. “It just feels good to be in this space.”

The seniors and preschoolers share the center’s commercial kitchen. There have been some challenges with that, according to Cindy Jackson. She works for Southeast Senior Services, which runs Haines’ senior lunch program. Jackson says she hopes the center, preschool and borough can work through those issues.

As senior lunch was wrapping up on a recent afternoon, 83-year-old Ruth Fairall said she hadn’t noticed any disturbance from the preschool.

“It’s good for the older generation and the youngest generations to be together,” Fairall said. “We’ll be happy when [the preschoolers] come in and sing for us again.”