Archive for Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Preschool may be closed

December 12, 2001

On a normal day at the Rainbow Preschool, children paint, read stories, play games and work on arts and crafts.

That's how it's been for 40 years.

But all of that is now in jeopardy.

After spending most of its existence at the First United Methodist Church, the Rainbow Preschool needs to find somewhere else to go soon; something that the preschool is not very optimistic about, Alison Bovee, Rainbow Preschool relocation committee chair, said. If it doesn't find a new place, it will probably close.

"We need to leave the church by the end of May," Bovee said. "We don't have to be in there by then, but we definitely need to know where we are going."

A new location

But finding a new place for the preschool isn't going to be easy, she said. The preschool must have a minimum of 700 square feet of indoor play space, 750 square feet of outdoor play space, two bathrooms, storage space and meet a number of other state requirements. It also must be in a commercial area.

"That really cuts us down," Bovee said.

Currently the preschool has all of that at the First United Methodist Church, but pastor Nanette Roberts said the arrangement isn't going to work anymore.

"It certainly wasn't an easy decision," Roberts said.

The church's congregation is growing in size, she said, which makes it harder to work around the preschool.

"When we have a church event, we have to ask them to break down their school," she said. "What they and we realized is that they had to move their school eight times in the first month.

"We had to ask is this a church that houses a preschool or a preschool that houses a church? Well, it's a church that houses a preschool," Roberts said. "We're growing. We've reached the place where something has to give."

Rainbow Preschool now has a matter of months to find a suitable place for class that meets all of the state requirements and fits in the not-for-profit preschool's budget.

"We have a very small relocation fund," Bovee said. "The budget for the preschool basically covers our expenses, nothing else."

She said currently the rent at the church is just less than $200 a month. But Bovee said she's afraid rent could be as much as $500 a month at a new location, which doesn't include the moving and renovating costs.

"It could cost thousands," she said. "Frankly, we don't have enough money to move."

To help with moving costs, Heather Brungardt, Rainbow Preschool Board President, said the preschool is hoping to get financial help from state and private foundation grants or from private donations.

Currently, the preschool doesn't have many options, Bovee said.

"If we don't find somewhere, we're done I guess," she said.

A look back

The closing of Rainbow Preschool would mark the end of a 40-year community effort.

Rainbow Preschool originally began at the First United Methodist Church as the Baldwin Cooperative Preschool.

"It was started by a group of moms wanting a play group for their kids," said Becky McMillen, former teacher and director of the Baldwin Cooperative Preschool.

Two parents helped the teachers in the classrooms, McMillen said.

It eventually became Rainbow Preschool, she said, and, with the exception of one or two years at Ives Chapel United Methodist Church, has met at First United Methodist Church every year.

McMillen said around 1,500 children have attended the preschool in its 40 years of existence.

"A lot of people I had, their kids are now going," she said.

The preschool, she said, has always been a part of the community.

"It's has been a community service," she said. "People still care when they think of it not being there."

Today's preschool

Currently there are three classes of children, about 40 students total, that meet throughout the week for part of the day. Each class has two teachers, which are accredited and have degrees.

The classes play, work on several projects and take trips to nursing homes and local businesses, Bovee said.

"It's not a daycare," she said. "It's a fairly structured program."

It is only one of two preschools in the surrounding area to have the National Association for Education of Young Children accreditation.

"It's like a stamp of approval," Bovee said.

Another aspect to the preschool is the involvement of the family in preschool activities, Brungardt said.

"We feel like what sets us apart as a preschool, is that we include the entire family," she said.

Because Rainbow Preschool is a co-op, parents run every aspect of the preschool including volunteering on the 10-member board to the upkeep of the playground equipment, Brungardt said.

"It really a cooperative effort of every parent," she said.

That helps keep the monthly fees down, Bovee said.

"The fees are the lowest in the district," she said. "We deliberately keep them low because we don't want to exclude anybody."

There are even scholarships available, Bovee said, to help those who can't afford the monthly fees.

A short time left

To help the preschool, Roberts said First United Methodist Church will forgo rent from January through May. The church will also have a fundraiser of some kind to help fund scholarships, she said.

"We're trying to make it as least negative as we can," she said.

But the preschool still needs a place to go.

McMillen said it wouldn't be feasible to close the preschool for year.

"I don't think you can lay out for a year looking for a place and then make a comeback," she said. "They'll lose their support and the accreditation."

Bovee said the preschool will have to have an answer in the next few months.

"Our time is short. We've looked at a bazillion different options," she said. "We've had doors open and a couple have already closed. My fear is they're going to keep closing."

Brungardt said if Rainbow Preschool were to close, it would be a big loss to the community.

"We're such part of the community," she said. "It would be such a loss. I hope people don't let it go."

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