Fairfax Children’s Center School District Explore Sale
After weeks of uncertainty about the future of the Fairfax-San Anselmo Children’s Center, the center and the Ross Valley School District are exploring a deal that could keep it in its location.
“I’m really happy that we’re all working together,” Heidi Tomsky, director of the center, said Tuesday at a district council meeting where the plans were announced. “This is where we wanted to be – and we got there.”
The Fairfax Center is at risk of relocation since a recent inspection revealed serious safety issues at the property. The Deer Park site needs major upgrades to bring its buildings up to current fire code, state earthquake safety standards and other requirements – upgrades that could only begin once that there will be a stable property in place.
The plan taking shape would involve the district, which owns the site and leases it to the children’s center, selling it to the center as surplus property under California education code guidelines.
“If we go in that direction, it would be one part, not two, to make the necessary upgrades,” Michael Calabrese, the center’s attorney, said at Tuesday night’s meeting. “It would be simpler from a legal and regulatory point of view, and less expensive.”
Calabrese said selling directly to the children’s center would be “the smoothest route possible.” He estimated the process could take six months or more because the state’s education code requires verification by an ad hoc citizens’ committee and several public hearings.
The children’s center and the school district have formed a committee to explore potential sale options. Representing the center are Tomsky; co-director Erik Schweninger; board member Jesse Crosswhite; and Calabrian. Shelley Hamilton, Chair of the Board of Trustees, represents the school district; Marci Trahan, Superintendent; Chris Carson, Chief Business Officer; and Terry Tao, the district attorney.
The committee plans to meet with officials from public entities in Marin who may be interested in purchasing the property and to help the children’s center maintain operations there, Hamilton said.
“We will meet with Fairfax, Marin County, Marin County Office of Education, Marin Municipal Water District and San Anselmo,” Hamilton said after the meeting. “We want to bring them up to speed on how they might be helpful.”
Fairfax Mayor Stephanie Hellman and council member Barbara Coler attended Tuesday’s meeting.
“The Children’s Center is a gem in our community,” Hellman said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “They provide wonderful value to the community.”
Coler said she was in favor of the school district selling the site directly to the center.
“The center has served our community extremely well,” she said. “Let’s keep the kids there – they’ve been a tremendous asset for 50 years.”
Some members of the public chastised the school district for keeping the matter secret behind closed doors for months before the crisis erupted publicly earlier this year.
Tao, at a March 31 board meeting, told trustees they would be held personally responsible if a fire or other emergency occurred and children were endangered or injured. He recommended administrators give the center 30 or 60 days’ notice to vacate the premises unless he can get up to $8.5 million in grants, loans or donations to bring the site up to code. .
Tao’s investigation into needed code upgrades was sparked after Tomsky and other center officials requested a four-year lease extension in early March so the center could apply for a $500,000 grant from the state to make improvements.
The lease is month-to-month, but a long-term lease was required as part of the grant application. Tao advised the administrators not to extend the lease and to give the center notice to leave.
Administrators and district officials said at the time that 30 or 60 days notice would be too short for the center to move. However, several admins said they were concerned about children being on a site that was unsafe.
District officials said the issue had been discussed in open session at least in the previous two council meetings.
But Lisa Canin, a longtime Ross Valley education advocate, said she thinks the closed-door talks went on longer than that. She criticized the district for not engaging a “broad group of stakeholders early on to make better, smarter, and more responsive decisions on critical public issues.”
“It is not normal to meet 14 times in the last two years about the Deer Park property behind closed doors, without reporting anything to the community about your vision for this property and your plans until there. two months,” Canin told a public hearing. comment.
“What you haven’t done is hire a surplus asset expert, to educate you and the community on what might have facilitated a different and much more effective solution to date,” he said. she declared.
Canin said she “cautiously hopes” the way forward will include broad community engagement.
Other speakers described the great value the center had brought to their lives.
“The center has been like family to us,” Marconi de Leon Signor, a graduate of the center, said in a public comment.
“Without it, our single mother would not have been able to take care of us,” added Signor, 18, from Greenbrae, referring to himself and his brother. “Thanks to her, she was able to work, while the center protected us. And I was able to go to high school, graduate, and now I’m going to college.
Calabrese said Wednesday that he and the center’s administration will continue to work with the other committee members in the coming weeks and report back to the public at the next meeting of the Ross Valley School District Board of Trustees on Aug. 2. .
“At that point, I expect to have a much clearer vision and a much clearer timeline,” he said.