Long-term future of Rohnert Park preschool in question as it searches for new home
As a working single mom, Adriana Jimenez was scrambling a few years back to find an affordable, reliable child care option for her young son that would allow her to hold down her full-time job.
She’d had little luck finding a preschool near her Rohnert Park home that wouldn’t eat into her monthly budget.
“I found one preschool but it was extremely, crazy expensive. I just couldn’t afford it,” she said, adding she considered saving up money or taking on debt to pay for it.
A caregiver who was providing at-home instruction to her son suggested she try Gold Ridge Preschool.
The school, operated by the Community Child Care Council of Sonoma County, or 4Cs, offered all-day care, was near her home and had subsidized tuition for lower earners. Jimenez applied and was accepted.
The program proved to be a lifeline for her.
Jimenez, who works in sales at State Farm, said the program allowed her to continue working without having to worry about who would care for her son and without taking a financial hit.
“It was so helpful to be able to work, be able to make my own money, and have child care,” Jimenez, now 34, said.
Gold Ridge Preschool has provided early care and education for working families in Rohnert Park and Cotati for six years, but the school’s long-term future is in question unless it can find a new home.
The school, on Golf Course Drive east of Snyder Lane, is housed in an aging group of four connected portables that is beyond its life span. Poor ventilation beneath the co-joined building has caused the foundation to shift and the classroom floors to buckle and crack.
4Cs has been working with Rohnert Park, which owns the facility, to find an alternative site. The city has agreed to make $200,000 in emergency repairs in the meantime to allow the preschool to remain in the building through the end of its lease in 2026.
Melanie Dodson, executive director of 4Cs, worries if they can’t find a new location the program could close, exacerbating the child care crisis in Sonoma County, which has lost thousands of child care slots during the pandemic.
A countywide tax measure that would’ve raised money for child care failed to qualify for the November ballot after thousands of signatures were flagged as suspicious by county election officials.
“We want all kids and families to have access to high-quality education but it has been very difficult in the pandemic,” she said. “I really worry about our parents who use our services if we can’t find a new location.”
Aging school site is failing
Gold Ridge serves 32 children ages 3 and 4 in its full-day, full-year preschool and half-day program. About 80 children were enrolled in the school prior to the pandemic, and Dodson hopes to increase capacity to about 70 students.
Close to 85% of families served live in Rohnert Park or Cotati, and the campus is one of the more diverse 4Cs operates, she said.
Families must be working or going to school to qualify for the program and earn below about $112,000 for a family of four to receive subsidized tuition. Full tuition is about $1,200 per month for full-day care.
Many Gold Ridge families receive free tuition, and the state has waived tuition for all students in 4Cs programs during the pandemic.
In 2016, the preschool moved into the former Gold Ridge Elementary School that closed in 2008 and signed a 10-year lease with Rohnert Park. Several of the buildings at the former school campus, which opened in 1987, have been demolished since the school closed except for the portable and a building that houses a city recreation center.
4Cs received a grant to make cosmetic repairs to the interior of the portable, repaint the walls, install new flooring and update the kitchen when they moved in.
But the portable soon showed signs of bigger issues.
Crews had to repair the classroom floors two years ago after a building assessment found signs of failure, according to the city.
The condition of the building has continued to deteriorate. Parts of the floor have become soft, and staff has had to patch up holes with wooden boards, Dodson said.
The City Council last August agreed to help 4Cs, a nonprofit that operates 12 preschools in Sonoma County and helps connect families with early childhood services. The city set aside $200,000 toward helping the school relocate.