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CHILD, preschools look for new space, prepare to leave North Mercer campus

The preschools that inhabit North Mercer campus have had one step out of the proverbial door for more than a year now.

Ever since the administrators of Children’s Institute for Learning Differences (CHILD), Country Village, Pixie Hill and Little Acorn day care received a lease termination warning in January 2009 from the Mercer Island School District — which was later negotiated into postponement — they have been counting their days at North Mercer.

“I’m not feeling that we were not warned. All the tenants have been on a shortened lease for the last year or so,” said Children’s Institute Director Trina Westerlund, referring to a notice of lease termination that MISD superintendent Gary Plano sent to North Mercer residents in January 2009.

According to the letter, the district “made a preliminary determination that the property leased to Pixie Hill Preschool [and Little Acorn Day School] is needed by the district for school purposes” — identified as growing enrollment.

Last week, the district publicized its plans for reclaiming North Mercer in the “21st Century Facilities Planning Process” (see story, page 1).

The five-year lease agreement that the North Mercer tenants signed in 2005 expires this August. However, the district most likely will not reclaim North Mercer for another several years or so, according to Plano.

But this has not stopped preschool administrators from looking for new homes.

Little Acorn Director Tiana Traylor has been saving up money to relocate the preschool to a small house on Mercer Island. Unfortunately, she has not yet saved enough.

“I need $200,000 more before I can get a down payment for a house here on Mercer Island,” Traylor said, emphasizing that she does not want to move off the Island. “I have been here 10 years.”

Traylor said that she has spoken to her neighboring tenants, all of whom are brainstorming options for the future. Things will be especially difficult for Pixie Hill, as the preschool is a nonprofit organization.

Country Village Director Linda Tepper declined to comment on the preschool’s plans when contacted by the Reporter.

Superintendent Plano has talked individually with all of the North Mercer tenants. Westerlund said that she appreciates the district’s invitation to work together in finding a new location for the full-day academic and therapeutic school for children. One option is moving the Children’s Institute to the middle school building once it is vacated.

Westerlund is open to this possibility, yet she is worried about the move’s effect on her students, who vary in ages from 3 to 18.

“It’s the interim period during which construction is going on at North Mercer that I’m concerned about. For our program, that would mean moving somewhere else temporarily and then moving again. Transition and change is very problematic and difficult for our kids. We have to consider the effect this would have on them,” Westerlund said.

The Children’s Institute enrolls 50 special needs students who commute to Mercer Island from 19 different school districts. The school employs a staff of 45.

“It’s a big decision. We’ve been here for 17 years, and because of that we’ve had a lot of stability,” she said.

The school district will continue to keep its North Mercer tenants updated on any plans for the property. Open dialogue with the community during the master planning process is the district’s first priority, according to Plano.

Archive stories on the North Mercer campus can be found at www.mi-reporter.com.

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