Pepperwood Preserve, Mark West preschool seek donations
The owners, students and families at Mark West Community Preschool have a $2 million dream.
That's what it will cost to build back the school obliterated by the Tubbs fire in 2017, making it bigger and better than before on their 1-acre Larkfield property off Old Redwood Highway just north of Mark West Springs Road.
The design donated by EcoSteel of Orange County, calls for a sleek 5,000-square-foot structure made of steel and other fire-resistant materials with solar power, rainwater catchment systems, heated flooring and natural light pouring through glass walls, windows and skylights.
It will replace the 3,000-square-foot wood frame building built in 1965 that owners Renee Whitlock-Hemsouvanh and Jenny Kenyon bought in 2013.
A $630,000 insurance payment covered most of their mortgage, leaving the private school to raise the whole construction cost of $2 million.
“It's a daunting number,” said Kenyon, who lost her own home.
They have raised just $250,000 so far and hope to open the new facility in June 2020.
Help came last week with a $25,000 grant from the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation that supports literacy, education, health and human services, the environment, arts and culture. Last year, the foundation added fire relief to its goals.
First 5 Sonoma County, a public agency that draws revenue from a statewide tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, previously contributed a $100,000 facilities grant.
California Community Lender Inc., a nonprofit created to help with post-fire rebuilding, has agreed to provide the preschool with a low-interest loan to cover most of the rebuilding cost and must be repaid.
The school, which serves children up to 5 years old, has held a few fundraisers, but Kenyon said the campaign is moving in “baby steps.”
Early childhood education is in demand in Sonoma County, she said, and Mark West preschool is a testament to the local support, having opened in January 2014 with 12 students and by August having 120 children enrolled.
The wildfire forced the school to relocate to a temporary site near Coddingtown Mall, where it can only accommodate 80 students ages 2 to 5, Kenyon said.
In the new facility, it will once again have room for all ages up to 5.
For more information on the rebuilding or to make a donation, go to rebuildmarkwest.com.
Pepperwood rebuilding in style
Roaring down the Mark West Canyon, the Tubbs fire scorched nearly all of Pepperwood Preserve, a 3,200-acre tract in the Mayacamas Mountains northeast of Santa Rosa.
The fire killed 22 people and destroyed more than 4,600 homes, including two wood-frame homes and a barn at Pepperwood that dated to the 1950s.
Now the nonprofit organization is poised to rebuild in a style that matches its commitment to conservation science and stewardship of the bucolic wild lands under its care since 2005.
Pepperwood has plans drawn, county permits pulled and a contractor ready to go to work, but there's a $1.25 million catch. Insurance is expected to provide about $3.75 million, enough for replicas of the lost structures, while the cost of the modern, sustainable, fire-resistant replacements is about $5 million.
The new residences will have concrete-paneled exteriors, mineral wool insulation, clay plaster interior walls and steel roofs. The materials are not fire-proof, but are “ignition-proof,” meaning they will not catch fire, said Andy Bannister, chief executive and founder of Earthtone Construction of Sebastopol, the builder.
“We felt like we needed to be an example,” said Lisa Micheli, president of the nonprofit foundation that operates the facility off Porter Creek Road. “To do it greener, cleaner, better and more fire-resilient.”
Eager to get started, Micheli said she nonetheless wants to wait until the fundraising campaign - “Rising from the Ashes” - has secured half of its goal, about $625,000, before work begins.
“People want to invest in the project,” she said, and Pepperwood wants donors to be on hand for the groundbreaking.
Marge Shurgot, the foundation's director of advancement, said last week fundraising is close to the halfway mark.
Every year, Pepperwood raises about $2.5 million to cover operating expenses, with roughly equal amounts from three sources: individual donors, foundations and fees for service, including government contracts.
“Rising from the Ashes” marks the first time Pepperwood has raised money for specific improvements.
The new buildings will be “the foundation for the next century at Pepperwood,” Micheli said. “We are in it for the long haul.”
For information on donating to Pepperwood Preserve, go to pepperwoodpreserve.org/donate.