by Juliana Birnbaum Fox
Parents, community leaders, and local residents gathered on May 4 to celebrate their victories and to continue their three-year effort to stop the planned eviction of the Bernal Heights State Preschool.
The school, located in the ground floor of the Bernal Heights Branch Library, offers free care for low-income families.It was to be moved permanently to Paul Revere Elementary in June 2006 due to seismic retrofitting of the library building. Members of the Save Bernal Preschool—Stop the Eviction campaign want the preschool to stay in the library after the retrofit, citing the benefits of a central location with easy access for local families and proximity to the library’s books and computers.
Bernal Heights Preschool has been located in the branch library for 26 years, and is currently made up of 80 percent of Latino families. The San Francisco Library Commission initially decided, without community input, that it would not be included in the new library’s design. Local organizing efforts have forced the library to reconsider its decision and to put forth other options.
While the Bernal Heights and Mission neighborhoods have a larger proportion of children under 5 years old than other parts of the city do, the number of preschool openings is smaller.
Currently, one out of three children is denied access to preschool because of the shortage of facilities.
“We refuse to be pushed out of our home for 30 years after we put in the sweat equity to keep the library open, renovate the play structure, gymnasium, and the Neighborhood Center, and revitalized Cortland Avenue,” said Gladys Soto, preschool committee co-chair, St. Mary’s Park resident, and mother of a 21-month old.
“We wanted to create a safety net for our children, youth, and seniors most at risk. We successfully did that and now we’re being asked to leave,” Soto said.
San Francisco Supervisors Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, and California Assemblyman Mark Leno have come out publicly in support of the preschool.
On April 24, the Board of Supervisors introduced a children and youth budget supplement which included Ammiano’s request of $1.6 million for the predevelopment and construction of a new Bernal preschool.
Experts are being assembled for a feasibility study, which will begin later this month, regarding construction on a playground site adjacent to the Bernal Library. To provide space for the preschool while library construction is taking place, a temporary site is being prepared at Paul Revere elementary school for a two year relocation period.
If the results of the study are positive and fundraising successful, plan approval, permitting and construction of the new preschool would take place between January 2007 and December 2008. Once the Bernal Preschool moves into the new site, Mission Neighborhood Centers has offered to continue operating the Paul Revere site, creating 50 slots of childcare in addition to the 50 slots the Bernal Preschool would provide. This would increase the total Bernal community childcare center slots to 100 from the 25 currently provided at the library.
“The fight to stop the eviction of the preschool is alive and well. We haven’t let the city dampen our spirits. They actually have strengthened our resolve to return to our home of 26 years,” said Bill Sorro, a grandfather, long term Bernal resident and Preschool campaign co-chair.