For more than four decades, kids have built lifelong friendships at Westville Community Nursery School, and in some cases returned as adults with their own children. The current roster of 35 children will be the last “class” at the celebrated school behind a picturesque church and steeple on Harrison Street.
After 42 years of hosting the nursery school and experiencing its own growing pains, the landlord, United Church of Westville, wants to reclaim the space used by the school. It recently served notice that it would not be renewing the school’s lease.
As the end of the school year looms, the nursery school’s Relocation Committee, board of directors, teaching staff, and realtor are finding the prospect of relocating to a suitable new address an elusive proposition.
Some folks are getting nervous, describing the situation as a crisis. But several parents interviewed, while expressing concern, said they have confidence that a new home for the school will be found.
Fixed in the minds of those who have had children at WCNS, this writer included, is the idyllic vision of a nursery school location that could have been plucked from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. The street is bounded on one end by a quaint post office and firehouse, and at its other end, a sprawling library and view of West Rock that rises like a postcard-perfect backdrop. The physical beauty and convenience of the location have played a secondary role in what has become an essential resource for getting some of Westville’s children off to a great start in life.
Friendships forged by children and their parents who have been part of WCNS family have endured and have strengthened community ties. Some parents, who themselves attended the preschool, have now returned with their own children to begin another cycle in the life of WCNS.
The WCNS motto, “Where Children Learn to Play, and Play to Learn,” accurately reflects a philosophy of education mentioned on their website and in practice at the school: “Our play-based program offers children ample time to make choices, discover materials, explore ideas, and reflect on their experiences.” With accreditation from NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children), WCNS also provides programs and training for families as part of WCNS culture.
Patty O’Hanlon, the school’s director, said part of the difficulty now lies in finding a location that has enough parking, playground space, and at least 3,000 square feet of interior space. She said that while the school would rather stay, there may be some advantages to renting or even buying a new location. O’Hanlon described a wish list of amenities not available at their present location, including a full kitchen with dishwasher, a laundry room, a staff lounge, and additional space to accommodate students on a waiting list.
In a letter to the Independent, Sue Ulintz Mosovic, the school’s publicity chair and board member, outlined additional challenges: “Commercial space in Westville is limited and expensive, rezoning residential property is challenging, public spaces have been considered but are ultimately not feasibly re-purposed within the short window of time we have left.”
“Our options,” said Mosovic, “have been either move outward from the core neighborhood of Westville into high-traffic streets, or increase tuition drastically to afford space that is close by, whittling away the local options for those in our community with limited resources.”
“We conducted a long and diligent search for a new location actively for a year, and six months before that,” said Rebecca Weiner, mother to one former and one future WCNS student, and a Realtor who is working with the school. Weiner said that some 47 sites have been reviewed. She identified one feasible, fallback site on Whalley Avenue, adjacent the Top Kat Laundromat. “No location is perfect, and there are always tradeoffs in real estate. No one is going to let the ball drop,” she said confidently.
Wherever WCNS is ultimately housed, its longevity and success as a vital component of the Westville community are owed to its staff and families working toward a common vision. Anne Olcott a WCNS teacher, could not have said it better: “The ‘community’ part of our name is real.”
To help support the school during this important time of transition or learn about upcoming fundraising initiatives, click here.