by TaLeiza Calloway
The address is 124 First Ave. SE, St. Joseph. It is where Little Saints Academy is housed and where that child-care center would like to stay.
Owner and director Amy Bonfig’s lease with the St. Cloud School District was set to expire in October. The district granted a temporary extension of the three-year lease that will allow Bonfig to stay in the space until April, 2013.
“We are actively seeking our new space,” Bonfig said. “We will be staying in St. Joseph and we will remain open.”
While Bonfig is looking for space, she has also been approached by others who have offered to assist her efforts.
“We’ve been approached by an angel investor who has said I will build you a building and you can pay me back contract for deed,” she said. “We’ve looked at existing buildings, either purchasing or leasing an existing building. We’ve looked at building ourselves with an investment group. We are exploring all those options.”
Even with help, the cost of relocation is a concern. She has about $100,000 in depreciable construction costs invested in the existing building. If she is forced to move, she would like to see at least a partial reimbursement for her investment.
Bonfig said there are 10 empty classrooms in the building. She is hoping the district considers plans that will allow both entities to share the space.
“We feel there is ample space to fulfill their need and let us remain here,” she said.
During a work session of the St. Cloud School Board June 13, six parents spoke on Bonfig’s behalf, many sharing her plea for consideration of collaboration.
Jessica O’Reilly has two children in the child-care center. She spoke of Bonfig’s dedication as an “important partner for public education in St. Cloud and St. Joseph.”
“The space is absolutely perfect for pre-schoolers, “ O’Reilly said. “It is our children’s home during the work week. They love it there. It’s a strong community.”
St. Joseph resident Heidi Santiago-Deford reminded officials Bonfig and the district share the same mission. She, too, urged officials to consider a collaborative decision to offer students continuity in their learning experience.
“She has the same mission the school district has,” Santiago-Deford said. “She’s not a retail store. She’s not selling trinkets on the street. She’s educating our children and educating your future (District) 742 students. She is a cornerstone of the community.”
Kari Salzer has had her children attend Little Saints since it opened three years ago. She and her husband expanded their family because of the child-care center, she told officials June 13. She urged officials not only to consider allowing Bonfig to stay but to consider the overall growth of the city and plan for future needs like the addition of a high school in the city.
St. Cloud Superintendent Bruce Watkins said there was talk this year about whether or not the district needed to use space in the vacated Kennedy for other purposes.
“The district has grown 400 to 500 kids at the elementary-school level and we’re feeling a crunch,” Watkins said.
He also said the extension of the lease allows time for evaluation of the district’s needs, a candid review, because it is a building it already owns and may need to occupy versus construction of another building.
The district’s lack of interest in renewing the lease stems from planning to address capacity issues of the current Kennedy Community School.
Kevin Januszewski, executive director of business services for St. Cloud School District 742, said earlier this month that using the space to house excess students has always been the plan.
Because the existing Kennedy Community School is reaching full capacity, the district anticipates needing that space during the 2013-14 or 2014-15 school years.
More than anything, Bonfig wants her families to know she is staying in St. Joseph. She would also like a straight answer about what is going into the space.
“We’ve been here for three years,” she said. “If they could give me a straight answer about it all and if I knew they were not going to utilize this space for a program that does the same thing I do, then I wouldn’t be that upset about it. But if they’re going to take my colors and my paint and my remodel and put their program in it, that upsets me. It’s blue and red paint but it’s the point of the matter.”