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Plans for a new probation building threaten survival of a child care center

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San Luis Obispo County is moving forward with plans to develop a "health campus" on a slice of land near the intersection of Johnson Avenue and Bishop Street, but the project could threaten the survival of a child care center that's been operating on the site for nearly 21 years.

Several community members attended a SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 14 to voice support for the Child Development Resource Center (CDRC) of the Central Coast, a nonprofit organization that serves at-risk children ages 2 to 6 through preschool education, therapeutic child care, family advocacy, and child developmental services.

THE FIGHT AHEAD Several community members attended a SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 14 to voice support for the Child Development Resource Center (CDRC) of the Central Coast, a nonprofit at risk of being forcibly relocated. - PHOTO BY KASEY BUBNASH
  • Photo By Kasey Bubnash
  • THE FIGHT AHEAD Several community members attended a SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 14 to voice support for the Child Development Resource Center (CDRC) of the Central Coast, a nonprofit at risk of being forcibly relocated.

"There is a child care crisis in this county," CDRC board President Michael Passarelli said at the meeting. "People in need need our services."

The CDRC has been around since 1971, Passarelli said, and moved to its current location about two decades ago. Although the CDRC owns the modular facility it operates in, it leases the land the building sits on from the county.

In June, the CDRC's lease will be up, and several months ago, the county informed the CDRC of its redevelopment plans for the Bishop Street site. Though the project is still years from breaking ground, and the county is offering to continue leasing its land to the nonprofit on a month-to-month basis until then, Passarelli said finding a new location in SLO's tight, high-cost rental market won't be a small task.

"So if you think that starting over at this point is easy, buy a ticket to Disneyland because you're living in a fantasyland already," Passarelli told supervisors at the Jan. 14 meeting. "This threatens the survival of this program."

Plans to develop a health campus near the Bishop and Johnson intersection have been in the works for several years, according to John Diodati, interim director of SLO County Public Works.

The health campus would allow the county to consolidate related services, including the SLO County Public Health Department, mental health services, and the Probation Department, into one easily accessible space. A new two-story, 31,500-square-foot probation facility is first up for design and construction, and would replace probation's current facility, which was built in the 1940s and is in need of "constant repair," according to the county staff report.

In order to provide all the services outlined in the idea for the health campus, Diodati said the entire site near Johnson and Bishop is needed. And because of the sloping land and drainage at the site, the county is limited to building in specific locations. Those factors make it difficult to build around the CDRC's existing facility, he said.

But several supervisors said at the Jan. 14 meeting that it could be done.

After hearing supporters of the CDRC, 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold suggested that county staff consider design plans that would include allowing the nonprofit to remain in its current location.

"My conscience won't let me vote for all this if the school's going to be taken away," she said.

The board unanimously voted to direct staff to analyze the CDRC issue and bring forward options that would allow the nonprofit to continue in the county, including at least one option that would keep the CDRC in its current location.

Michelle Holm, CEO of the CDRC, said she was elated to see so much support from the supervisors. The nonprofit put more than 100 children through preschool last year and served about 37,000 meals. Along with education, she said the organization provides therapeutic services to children who are living in shelters, on the brink of homelessness, and in the foster system—services that could actually prevent these children from entering the probation system in the future.

"We do a lot more than just preschool," Holm told New Times.

With the supervisors' recent decision, Holm said she and other CDRC leaders feel less threatened, but they're still looking into other locations, fundraising options, and all the other possibilities if they have to move. She hopes that won't be the case.

"We had a good win today," Holm said, "but we have a fight ahead." Δ

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