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Preschool loses home of 75 years on Amherst College campus

After receiving certificates and praise, they ran to parents and relatives and joined in a buffet to celebrate the conclusion of the school year. In that way, Thursday’s ceremony at the Little Red Schoolhouse resembled many before it.

But it may have been more emotional for parents and staff, as it marked the possible end of the program, based on the Amherst College campus for more than 75 years.

Therese Ross, its director, sees a loss to the community as the program goes on what is being described as an hiatus.

The Amherst Day School, as it is formally known, is being forced to vacate by May 31 after the college provided a yearlong extension. The college has long paid for heat, electricity and water at the schoolhouse, built in 1937, and continued to provide around $20,000 to the school from an endowment.

The concern over the impacts from construction of a new science center, despite delays, forced the decision, according to college spokeswoman Caroline Hanna.

The area will be affected by noise, fumes, vibrations, the comings and goings of heavy machinery and dust.

“It was difficult to have to ask the Amherst Day School program to vacate the building but it is a request that makes sense, given the nature of the work that will be happening in close proximity to the Little Red Schoolhouse,” Hanna wrote in an email.

Ross said she and other staff will pack up supplies and place them in storage. There are no immediate plans to relaunch the program elsewhere.

While about half of the children will go on to kindergarten, the parents of the other children must find another preschool that suits their needs.

One such parent is Carole Learned-Miller of Amherst, who said the quality of the teacher care and interest in the children is exceptional. “We’re looking for another Little Red, and there isn’t one,” Learned-Miller said.

Suenita Berube of Amherst said she wanted her son to have the same opportunities as her older daughter. “We would have loved him to continue,” Berube said. Her family is likely to use the Crocker Farm School preschoool in the fall.

Proposal rejected

During the yearlong extension given by the college, Little Red’s director and board were asked to develop a proposal that would better meet the needs of faculty and staff at Amherst. Ross said the proposal would be to run the identical program, five days a week, and add afternoon sessions.

She said the proposal was rejected because the program didn’t have a building from which to operate.

Peter Rooney, director of the campus news office, confirmed the proposal was rejected in February because no site was identified.

Lisa Berry, whose two children have attended Little Red the past four years, praised the educational model.

“Anyone can just appreciate that the dedication of the teachers is unsurpassable and the schoolhouse is so unique a building for children of this age,” said Berry, an Amherst resident.

“This is a devastating loss to lose such an historical community treasure,” Berry said.

Jennifer Reese of Hadley said she recently moved to the area from Boston. She got names of preschools and upon meeting Ross, knew the program was right for her son. It has a robust curriculum, skilled educators and is more affordable than similarly top-notch programs, she said.

“Little Red is exceedingly significant to the immediate community and the community at large,” Reese said.

In the year at the program, her son has developed kindness, responsibility and self-esteem.

Berube’s experience is similar. “It’s been an amazing program, the teachers are so nurturing and smart and know so much about child development,” Berube said.

Christine O’Donnell, who has taught at the school for about a decade, became familiar with it when her family was looking for a preschool program for her son. “It was a good program in a beautiful location that sold us,” O’Donnell said.

Several parents expressed frustration the proposal for the future was not acceptable to the college.

Reese said she feels as if the college no longer wanted it and wishes it were more candid about its reasons, outside of the safety concerns during construction.

“We’re at this stage of having to shake our heads in disbelief and confusion,” Reese said. “We have the pre-eminent institution that espouses values of education and enriching community, and are perplexed at the disconnect between who they are as an institution and this decision.”

Berry said the proposal was the best the preschool could come up with.

“I feel as though the board, parents and teachers have worked hard to meet Amherst College’s need for expanded service,” Berry said.

But Learned-Miller expressed confidence that the hiatus would not last long.

“There is a very committed parent group to help find a new location,” Learned-Miller said.

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