Two years and $750,000 later, Little Learners Center will open a third preschool in Arcata, welcoming children from 2 to 5 years old starting today.
"There's a big need for quality care in Humboldt County and our other centers are full," said Shannon Hall, co-owner and director. "We currently serve 150 families and the spots for the new site are almost full as well."
The first Little Learners opened in 2008 with a class of 24 in a rented room at Arcata Elementary School, and expanded to the two current sites at Gwin Road in McKinleyville and Valley East Boulevard in Arcata.
"There were little schoolhouses that weren't in use anymore so we bought those and have been using them," Hall said. "This new center in Arcata -- what I call the Taj Mahal of preschools -- was built from the ground up in two years."
Arcata Community Development Director Larry Oetker said when Hall brought the project forward, everyone loved it.
"They submitted the project, we went through the process and approved it at the first meeting," Oetker said. "In order to build the school, they had to get funding and I think it was more than they originally thought it would be so they submitted a redesign to lower the cost. We approved the redesigned plan at the first meeting."
Danco President and CEO Dan Johnson said he introduced Hall to the right people.
"I was a mentor for many years with the Economic Fuel program at HSU -- which helps small business owners get on their feet with business grants -- and was coupled with Shannon to give her advice and around that time I was also coaching her daughters' soccer team," Johnson said. "I helped her understand the loan process but she was the one willing to take on the risk and accept the liability."
Hall said there were a lot of hoops to go through during the building process for the new school because their state license requirements didn't always match up with the city's requirements.
"I believe this is the first preschool that's been built from the ground up in Arcata for years," Hall said.
Oetker said regardless of where people build, the process can be difficult because they have to get a land use permit and a building permit -- and parents were requesting day care close to work.
"There were several of these day cares and preschools popping up as an alternate to traditional schools, and we heard the community loud and clear that they wanted these facilities," Oetker said. "So within the last year we went to the council and were able to streamline the permit requirements. We decreased the timeline of getting permits from six months to one month and also lowered the fee from $2,000 down to about $400."
Johnson said the school will be a huge asset to the community.
"I think the preschool is one of the most state-of-the-art preschools this side of Santa Rosa," Johnson said.
Hall said the architect went above and beyond and one of the things that sets the campus apart is the child safety entrance.
"Each parent will have a code to get in and there are two doors -- a child-sized one and an adult-sized one," Hall said. "Some other features are bathrooms located near the back of the building close to the yard so supervision is easy and the placement of the kitchen and storage in the center of the building so all teachers can access it."
Hall added that there is a natural playscape for the playground -- all-natural materials, not a lot of plastic -- with pea gravel, redwood stumps, a sandbox and a slide.
"The building is absolutely beautiful and I would give it an A plus," Oetker said. "I think it's a wonderful addition to the community."
Contact Melissa Simon at 441-0508 or email@example.com.