After 27 years in El Granada, Picasso Preschool is looking for a new home. But a potential transition of the campus into a community center has many local parents worried.

Preschool business owner Candise D’Acquisto said the owners of the three-classroom Avenue Alhambra building unexpectedly decided to sell the building this year after her lease is up. After considering shutting down the preschool earlier this year due to hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, she’s since decided to keep running the school but will now have to find a new campus.

“It would be really detrimental and so sad to close our doors permanently, and I'm trying to do everything I can to avoid that,” D’Acquisto said.

But finding a location on the Coastside that meets all the needs of preschool, like offering enough bathrooms, parking spaces and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, isn’t easy. D’Acquisto said that right now she’s still looking and isn’t sure what the future holds for the school.

As for the old campus, its potential sale has stirred up controversy on the Coastside. The Granada Community Services District has considered purchasing the property for a new community center and district offices. But with few early childhood education options on the Coastside and yearslong waiting lists for those that do exist, many Picasso parents and others are opposed to the move.

GCSD Board Member Matthew Clark said that after putting the potential purchase on a closed-session agenda, he heard from dozens of parents who oppose the district buying the school and turning it into a local community center. To Clark, the Avenue Alhambra location is ideal for the center, a top priority of recently surveyed El Granada residents. The location offers ample space for recreational and educational activities and classes with amenities like parking and storage. Plus, it would save the district tens of thousands of dollars per year in rented office space — and it’s right next to the planned Burnham Park.

He doesn’t see the district’s move as related to the preschool’s struggles. The building was put up for sale last November and on the market for more than six months before the district considered buying it. And the final decision for the property’s future is ultimately up to the building owner.

“We’re not taking anything away from anyone,” Clark said. “... All GCSD did is put up our hand and say we are interested in the property.”

Before GCSD was even considering the property, the building owners were in talks with another school to potentially take over the building, Clark said. But the school wasn’t able to make it through escrow, opening up the opportunity to GCSD. Clark said that if the sale doesn’t pan out, GCSD will turn back to the old fire station property as an alternative for the community center.

El Granada resident Lauren Wilson is one parent speaking out about the potential sale. Her 4-year-old is a current Picasso student, and her youngest daughter is on the waitlist. She said she appreciates D’Acquisto’s transparency about the future of the school but doesn’t know what working families will do without local childcare. Even the preschools over the hill have waitlists, she said. As for the potential GCSD sale, she’s in opposition.

“I think childcare is way more important for the parents of El Granada,” Wilson said.

After a tough year of navigating the pandemic with limited class sizes while retaining all her staff, D’Acquisto said she was close to throwing in the towel and selling the business alongside the building. But the potential that the campus may be used for anything other than another preschool has driven her to continue and to find a new location. To D’Acquisto, keeping open an option for Coastside parents is too important.

“I don't want to see this school just end,” D’Acquisto said. “It’s a staple in this community. I wanted someone to come buy it who had the love for it I had, the heart. But I just can't let it go like that.”

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