Ross Valley School District officials and staff at the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center are trying to advance the potential sale or transfer of the center.
The school board, at a public meeting on Tuesday, released a list of documents and reports needed to move forward with the potential transfer of the district-owned daycare center to its tenant. The Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center is one of the only subsidized child care centers in Marin.
“I want to have these things in writing,” Ross Valley School District administrator Ryan O’Neil said of the documentation. “Let’s find a way to ‘yes’.”
The actions come after an intense community backlash in June in response to a district attorney’s recommendation that the center be told to vacate the center in 30 to 60 days for safety reasons. Lawyer Terry Tao, speaking at the May 31 public board meeting, told trustees they could be held personally liable if anything happened to the center that threatened the safety of the children and the personal.
Tao said the fire and other building code issues surfaced during an investigation he conducted in response to the center’s request in March for a four-year lease. Center staff, who have a month-to-month lease, said they needed a longer-term lease in order to apply for a state grant to fund some improvements.
Tao advised against granting the four-year lease and instead recommended that the district give the center notice to vacate. A community outcry ensued, drawing around 200 people to a June 14 board meeting to protest any plans to close the center.
Since then, district staff and administrators have been committed to finding a way to keep the center intact, while addressing security concerns.
Although a sale or transfer to tenants is the preferred option, there could also be plans to sell or transfer the facility to another public entity willing to keep the center running. A third option could be to move the center while security improvements are underway.
The buildings at the center, in the Deer Park area of Fairfax, have “not seen significant security infrastructure upgrades for many years,” according to the staff report from Tuesday’s meeting.
From the District’s perspective, there is a need for long-term stability in “knowing that it is not at risk of litigation over the facility safety issues it has identified in Deer Park,” says staff report.
On the list of documents, O’Neil said the most important to him are a financing plan, a facility needs assessment, an objective property appraisal, a fire appraisal report and a property appraisal. .
“For me, the road to ‘yes’ is through credible documents, based on credible factual evidence,” O’Neil said.
Michael Calabrese, a lawyer representing the children’s center, said he and other negotiators will decide at an upcoming meeting who will be responsible for obtaining the documents.
“It’s going to take a lot of collaboration,” Calabrese said.
“I heard the directors clearly wanted written submissions,” he added. “We will do everything we can to meet this requirement.”
Negotiators include Calabrese and Tao; Heidi Tomsky and Erik Schweninger, representing the Children’s Center; Marci Trahan, Ross Valley District Superintendent; District Council President Shelley Hamilton; district budget officer Chris Carson; and a member of the center’s board of directors.
Schweninger, the center’s program director, said, “We hope this is moving in a good direction.
“I appreciate the community being part of this process,” said Tomsky, director of the center.
The comments came as more than a dozen parents and former students at the center pleaded for it to stay open.
“If the center closes, I’m done,” Zoe Hunter, a single mother who relies on the center to care for her child while she works as a dental assistant in Fairfax. “It’s just devastating to put that thought in my mind.”
Elsa Quintanilla, a member of the San Rafael Parent Voices advocacy group, translated from Spanish for center parent Vicky Tenorio, a mother of three. Quintanilla and a dozen other parents in the audience wore bright blue and white T-shirts representing the band.
“The children’s center opened doors for me and my children,” Tenorio said. “The center is part of them – they have a place to stay after school.”
The next regular meeting of the Board of Directors will take place on August 23.