North Bay Children’s Center in Novato plans overhaul
Updated: Jun 2, 2018
POSTED: 10/06/17, 5:12 PM PDT | UPDATED: ON 10/08/2017
Author: Stephanie Weldy
Publication: Marin Independent Journal
The North Bay Children’s Center in Novato plans to redevelop the existing 27-year-old campus. Robert Tong/Marin Independent Journal
Novato’s Design Review Commission gave its stamp of approval to a $7.5 million redesign of the North Bay Children’s Center in Hamilton.
Commissioners voted unanimously this week to support the project that would replace the child care and early education center at 932 C St. with a 19,824-square-foot building that would increase enrollment capacity from 125 to 147 children. Commissioner Marshall Balfe was absent.
“The North Bay Children’s Center has been operating 20-something years without incident,” said Hans Grunt, senior planner with the city. “It has been very well received, if not complimented regionally for their pioneer services and their looking for efficiency in the processes as a nonprofit. We certainly want to work with them.”
In the proposal brought to commissioners on Wednesday, four modular structures encompassing 13,055 square feet would be replaced by a building featuring eight classrooms, an adult education classroom, an art classroom, a teacher training lab and a multi-use space for family and community activities. A commercial kitchen would provide space for preparation of about 64,000 children’s meals a year and the school’s edible “Garden of Eaten” would be expanded to include remodeled planting areas, a greenhouse and potting storage. An amphitheater, playgrounds and space for recreational activity would be included.
Susan Gilmore, executive director of the center, said educators would have the space and resources for nutrition training, with the garden serving as a national model and learning lab.
“We would work with educators on how to integrate nutrition education into regular curriculum,” she said. “Schools can come and do trainings while we’re in session.”
The campus, headquarters to the center’s 13 sites serving 600 students daily across Marin and Sonoma counties, would house administrative offices for all sites.
Novato Unified School District’s parking lot, which the center shares with Novato Charter School, would be expanded to increase from 40 to 59 spaces. Sidewalks would also be added along C Street to Main Gate Road.
Center officials said the renovation is sorely needed for the nearly 30-year-old campus.
“We’re battling leaks and failing plumbing and siding that needs to be replaced because it’s worn through,” said Gina Benedetti-Petnic, who serves on the center’s board of directors. “It’s just falling apart literally under our feet. We’re in desperate need of a brick-and-mortar facility home to continue the school and the work we do.”
Gilmore said the new center would bring more opportunities for local families from unique backgrounds. She said increased enrollment would be spread across programs offered throughout the day.
“By designing a campus that utilizes the entire footprint, we’ll be able to serve more children,” she said. “Our county has a huge need. We’re really focused on building capacity for preschool, early care and education, as we’re looking at raising sustainable funding streams to expand capacity for affordable care for all children.”
North Bay Children’s Center provides subsidized programs, including early education for children as young as 6 weeks old to 5 years old. Before- and after-school programs are offered for up to 28 grade-school age children through third grade.
The next step is for the city Zoning Administrator to conduct a public hearing to consider whether to issue a use permit. Grunt said the permit will allow for demolition and construction at the site. Before the hearing, city staff will reach out to Novato Charter School officials for input on parking.
Gilmore said the project consists of two stages — acquiring permits and fundraising to bring the project to reality.
“We have to make sure our fundraising needs to keep up with the permitting process,” she said.
The center has raised $2 million toward the center’s $7.5 million target. Marin Community Foundation in June pledged $1 million through its Buck Family Fund, with $1 million pledged by board members and stakeholders, Gilmore said. She said the goal is to raise another $2 million by July 2018, when officials hope to wrap up the permitting process.
With strong community support, the goal is for ground to be broken by January 2019 and for construction to be completed late that year.
Benedetti-Petnic said community members should consider contributing to the project because it will lead to a better future.
“People should feel like they’re supporting the success of their community and the welfare of their families, their economy, education system and the well-being of the community,” she said. “It’s very far-reaching in its effects and consequences.”
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