Preschool destroyed in North Bay wildfires gets key reconstruction financing

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Want to help the preschool?

For more information about the effort to rebuild Mark West Community Preschool, go online to rebuildmarkwest.com and markwestpreschool.com.

Nearly a year after the Tubbs fire wiped out the Mark West Community Preschool, its owners have received key financing from a nonprofit lender to rebuild.

California Community Lender, Inc., which allows people to invest in a revolving loan fund that gives a modest return on their investment, was created in the aftermath of the destructive North Bay fires to help with rebuilding efforts. The nonprofit is providing Mark West Community Preschool a loan to cover most of its rebuilding cost, estimated between $800,000 and $1 million, said Renee Whitlock-Hemsouvanh, co-owner of the school.

“People can make investments to the fund and have a local impact,” Whitlock-Hemsouvanh said. “It’s specifically for situations like ours, where we would not have been able to get a traditional loan.”

After the wildfires, the preschool relocated to a smaller site near Coddingtown Mall. But the owners and the parents whose children attend Mark West Community Preschool have been working to rebuild the school at its former location, just north of the intersection at Mark West Spring Road and Old Redwood Highway.

The $630,000 insurance payout for the property barely covered the mortgage owners Whitlock-Hemsouvanh and Jenny Kenyon took out to buy the property back in 2013. The $300,000 they invested in remodeling, landscaping and buying furniture and office and school equipment, as well as in covering startup payroll costs, was a complete loss.

Jeff Kelly, one of three founders and chief business development officer for California Community Lender, said the preschool is a good example of the kind of project that could benefit from nonprofit investment financing.

Kelly said the model is similar to that of community development financial institutions, which utilize federal and private dollars to invest in distressed, low-income neighborhoods.

“Our goal is to basically be able to support projects that are not conventional,” he said, adding that conventional development and financing models will not be able to replace the thousands of homes lost in last year’s disaster.

But novel financing is not the only thing that’s making the reconstruction of Mark West Community Preschool possible.

The school owners also have received help from their designer and builder, Orange County-based EcoSteel, which primarily does prefabricated steel construction for the commercial, manufacturing and retail industries. It also builds residential homes, some now going up in Coffey Park.

EcoSteel founder Joss Hudson said he was shocked by the amount of destruction cause by the wildfires and wanted to do something to help. His company donated the design and preliminary engineering work for the preschool, which will have a steel roof and wall panels and a high-energy rating. It’ll also be noncombustible.

When he first talked to the preschool owners, they told him they were underinsured, he said. The owners weren’t sure how they were going to cover the estimated $1.5 million to $2 million it would take to rebuild.

“The only way to get the school rebuilt would have been to contain construction costs,” Hudson said. “We’re going to try to continue donating products and services as we move forward.”

After the fires, Chelsie Biden, whose 4-year-old daughter, Avery, attends the school, helped organize “work parties” that were instrumental in launching the school’s temporary site near Coddingtown Mall. With the help of her husband, who’s in construction, parents spent two weekends replacing flooring, doing deep cleaning, building wood fencing and installing new toilets for the kids.

It’s the same devotion and communitywide effort that’ll help rebuild Mark West Community Preschool at its former site, Biden said.

“I cannot wait,” she said. “We’re geared up. We’re excited and we’re ready to go.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

Want to help the preschool?

For more information about the effort to rebuild Mark West Community Preschool, go online to rebuildmarkwest.com and markwestpreschool.com.

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