The Chilkat Valley Preschool might have a new home in Haines School starting in 2016. Talks between the preschool and school representatives became public at a school board workshop Thursday night.
The private non-profit preschool has been scrambling to find a new home for more than a year. The Haines Borough owns the preschool’s current building, and the borough assembly has given them a deadline to move out.
The preschool had plans to buy a building, but that didn’t work out.
“It just seems like a lot for us as an organization to take on ownership of a building and we’ve really struggled with that, like if it’s financially doable, if it makes sense for the future of our community as a whole,” said preschool board president Alissa Henry. “And being involved with the school is always our first option. So we were happy to be approached by members of the school board and the school to explore that option again.”
Last March, preschool board members came to a joint school board-borough assembly meeting with the idea of setting up a modular building for the preschool on school property. That didn’t go far because some board and assembly members were uncomfortable with a private non-profit operating on public school property.
After the Thursday workshop, school board president Anne Marie Palmieri explained why she and Superintendent Ginger Jewell decided to revisit this option with the preschool a couple months ago.
“You know, we’ve kind of been following the progress of what’s been happening with them,” Palmieri said. When they found out that the preschool’s plan to buy a building fell through, “We contacted them and asked if they were interested in having a dialogue about being on the school property.”
Palmieri presented a draft memorandum of understanding to the school board. It’s a 5-year agreement starting August 1, 2016. The preschool would only pay for utilities, they wouldn’t pay rent. Palmieri says she feels strongly that this isn’t about making a profit.
As for where the preschool would be located, Palmieri says originally they were thinking of putting a modular building on the school property. But that wasn’t financially doable for the preschool. In the draft memorandum, the office/classroom space occupied by the superintendent and the kindergarten/first grade area are listed as possibilities.
School board member Sarah Swinton brought up this concern:
“I’m a little bit worried about this 5-year plan. I wonder if all of a sudden we get a boost of kids and we need space, and we’re gonna contract with [the preschool] and we need the rooms they’re in. What do we do then?”
Enrollment at Haines School has declined over the past several years, but Swinton said you never know what could happen.
The board decided that in the memorandum of understanding, there should be a clause that says if school attendance spikes and the rooms the preschool occupies are needed, they would have to move.
Besides that one concern, the board was supportive of helping the preschool.
“I just feel like we’re a community first,” said Lisa Schwartz. “And these are potential customers for our school, and that just says it all. I can support this.”
The school board will give their official decision about whether to move forward with this at a May 12 meeting. Then the district administration and the preschool will work out a final agreement.
Chilkat Valley Preschool has raised about $100,000 toward the goal of buying a new facility. Hoffman says if the agreement with the school works out, the preschool board will decide how to use that money at a meeting in June.