Lodi Health has decided to shutter its Camp Hutchins preschool program after more than 15 years of operating it on city-owned property, after the Lodi City Council gave direction to renegotiate the lease to seek rent.
The popular program is scheduled to close in July.
“We were devastated at the news we received over the weekend,” parent Jennie Santos said of the letter she and dozens of other families got in the mail Saturday. “In talking to the teachers, it sounds like they didn’t know much sooner than us.”
The city has provided approximately 2,000 square feet of space, plus restrooms, an office and laundry room free of charge for the program housed at Hutchins Street Square.
But in December 2012, following a city council discussion regarding rental fees, councilmembers Bob Johnson and JoAnne Mounce gave direction for city staff to amend the lease agreement to include a monthly rental fee. It was a unanimous vote.
On Monday, Jeff Hood, director of City Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services, said that city staff followed up with Lodi Health (formerly Lodi Memorial Hospital), which then chose to close the program. He declined to give details about the discussion and proposed fees, and a hospital spokesperson could not be reached for comment.
Camp Hutchins was originally founded by the city, but the hospital organization took over operation in 1998 under a lease agreement to pay $1 a year. It is renewed annually in August.
The program is designed specifically to prepare children ages 3 to 5 for kindergarten with creative and cultural experiences in music, art, literature, group and hands-on learning activities, according to the website.
Until 2006, it was solely a daycare program and served more than 350 families. It reopened that year with the additional preschool component.
Santos, whose 4-year-old daughter started attending last fall, has been thrilled with the program and all that her daughter has learned. She planned to continue attending next school year.
Santos doesn’t know where she will send her daughter come fall, especially since Camp Hutchins was at the top of her preschool list — in fact, Santos put her daughter’s name on a waiting list for the program when she was still 2.
“I knew I wanted her to go there,” she said, adding that she was also planning to send her second child, whom she’s expecting now, to Camp Hutchins.
Santos is hopeful the city council will change its mind — and if not, perhaps the community can come together to find other funding options such as donations, she said.
“It’s sad. These children are Lodi’s future,” Santos said.
Hood said the city was notified of the summertime closure last week. City staff is currently looking at new options for the space, according to Hood.
Among the policy issues that council members addressed while discussing Camp Hutchins and possible rental fees were whether the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services department should continue providing a rent subsidy for child care services that compete with private providers. The department’s afterschool program will resume paying $12,000 rent per site per year to Lodi Unified School District in July.
Additionally, the city has been absorbing the cost of wear and tear related to the tenants’ use while operating Camp Hutchins since 1998, Hood said.
For example, the city paid $2,400 to replace a worn-out countertop a couple of years ago, he said.
In September, Lodi Health began paying for its own monthly garbage and electricity bills.
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.