Longtime Belleville daycare, preschool to close

News-DemocratApril 2, 2014 

St. John's Daycare and Preschool in Belleville is closing its doors later this month, and parents must find other arrangements for their children between now and April 25.

"We are unhappy to see it's going to close after all of these years," said director April Jones. "We are going to miss the children and the families that have come through here. We have built very good relationships with them, and we are going to miss them."

The daycare and preschool center, located at 2620 Lebanon Ave., is operated by the nonprofit organization Caritas Family Solutions.

CEO Gary Huelsmann said the organization made the difficult decision to cease the operation of St. John's Daycare and Preschool for several reasons including declining enrollment.

"The center was chronically suffering losses," Huelsmann said. "We weren't at capacity."

It currently serves between 26 and 35 children, ages 2 to 5 years old.

St. John's Daycare has lost money the last two years. In fiscal year 2013, Huelsmann said the daycare reported a loss of $24,000, and so far this fiscal year, the facility continues to operate at a loss of more than $32,000.

"As you can see, it's going in the wrong direction," he said.

In fiscal year 2012, St. John's Daycare had a profit of approximately $17,500.

The Caritas Board of Directors felt operating a daycare, Huelsmann said, didn't fit with the organization's current mission to care for the most vulnerable including abused children.

"It wasn't quite as good of a match with our active mission," Huelsmann said.

Caritas also wasn't able to renew its lease with the Diocese of Belleville. "They needed to use their space for their purposes," Huelsmann said.

The diocese plans to move the pre-kindergarten program at St. Teresa Catholic School in Belleville to the former St. John's Daycare site beginning in the 2014-15 school year, according to a letter from Monsignor David Darin provided to St. Teresa parents Monday.

The center will be renamed St. Teresa School Monsignor Eichenseer Early Childhood Center. The program will include both 3- and 4-year-olds.

"It gives us the opportunity to be able to add the 3-year-old program," St. Teresa Principal Dennis Grimmer said.

He explained the school will hire a licensed teacher for the new program for 3-year-olds and the current pre-kindergarten teachers will relocate to the early childhood center in the fall.

"It will be exactly the same identical program," he said of pre-kindergarten with computer, music, library and physical education classes.

Grimmer said the former St. John's facility will be updated with new paint and a reorganization of the space. "We think it has a lot of promise," he said.

Work at the center will begin in May and may be ready for an open house as early as July, Grimmer said.

In the future, St. Teresa may convert the extra space at the current school into a science lab.

St. John's Daycare notified its parents on Monday with a letter.

"The families are very upset," Jones said, "especially it being kind of late notice and not being able to remain here. It's sad. It's very sad."

Caritas Family Solutions, formerly Christian Social Services and Catholic Social Services, took over St. John's three and a half years ago, Huelsmann said.

The center currently employs seven staff members. "We have offered them jobs at other parts of the organization," Huelsmann said. "Some staff have already found new jobs and will be leaving us at the end of this week."

St. John's Daycare is slated to remain open until April 25. However if all the parents find other childcare arrangements before then, Huelsmann said the center will close sooner.

"We tried our best. We provided high-quality service, but the enrollment just wasn't there," he said. "We are sorry we had to inconvenience the children and the parents. We wish them nothing but the best in their new preschool and daycare arrangements."

Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or jforsythe1@bnd.com.

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