Woodville to turn out preschool at abandoned fire station

Woodville Union School District purchases the old Woodville Fire Station from the County for $5,000

WOODVILLE– There’s nothing kids love more than visiting the local fire station and in Woodville, preschool-age children will have the opportunity to visit one every day.

Woodville Union School District is planning to convert an old Tulare County fire station into a state preschool and community learning center. The district has been negotiating with the County of Tulare since last year and last week, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the sale of the former Woodville Fire Station to the school district for $5,000.

Superintendent Lou Saephan said the district has been in talks with the Tulare County Office of Education to provide preschool programming in Woodville at the site. He said the district has declining enrollment because many parents have to take their children out of town for childcare, which often leads to their children attending other districts.

“Parents are looking for places for childcare and there aren’t a lot of options,” Saephan said.

The former fire station would also serve as a community center where parents and adults could access the internet. Saephan said Woodville does not have a library and many parents struggle to access the internet at their homes. In the spring, the district learned only 38% of its students had internet access at home. The district was able to provide some of those households with WiFi but there were still connectivity issues in the rural school district halfway between Porterville and Tipton.

“We have hotspots and connectivity is still bad in some areas,” Saephan said.

Many parents also had trouble assisting their children with logging onto district-issued devices and were unable to troubleshoot issues such as dropped internet connections, Zoom meetings and navigating educational software. He said the community center could be a place to help parents learn to use computers more effectively, not only to help their children with assignments, but also to apply for jobs, pay bills and to work remotely.

Located at 16756 Avenue 168, the facility had not served as an active fire station for several years after being down-staffed to a volunteer-only station in 2005. The property was recently used as a centralized supply building for the Tulare County Fire Department until they vacated the property in December 2018. The county declared the building as surplus property in October 2019 and began the process to sell the building. When no bids were received last December, the county began more in-depth talks with the Woodville school district.

The district celebrated the opening of its first new building in a half century last month when it opened its youngest students to a brand new kindergarten facility on Aug. 14. Woodville Union was one of the first districts in the state to be awarded a Full-Day Kindergarten Facilities Grant in January 2019. WUSD received $2.5 million to construct three new kindergarten classrooms. The district broke ground on the project last October.

Schools in Tulare County made up half of the original 12 grant recipients including Pixley Union, Cutler-Orosi Joint Unified, Lindsay Unified, Traver Joint Elementary and Richgrove Elementary. Assembly Bill 1808, was signed by the Governor as a 2018 budget trailer bill that appropriated $100 million out of the General Fund to the State Allocation Board to provide one-time grants to school districts to construct new school facilities or retrofit existing school facilities for the purpose of providing full-day kindergarten classrooms to house existing kindergarten students.

To be eligible, a district’s school board had to have already approved all-day kindergarten programming but lacked the facilities to house the classes. Funding priority was given to schools unable to make a portion or all of its matching share requirement for the project and qualifies for Financial Hardship assistance and those located in an underserved community with a high population of pupils who are eligible for free and reduced-price meals.

Woodville Union School District is a single TK-8 elementary school district located in an unincorporated area west of Porterville. It serves about 440 students in Woodville, which has a population of about 1,800. The majority of the community is populated by farm working families. According to the school district’s web site free, 97% of Woodville students are eligible for the free and reduced price lunch program.

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