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Time Running Out for Santa Maria Daycare Center

For more than 20 years they’ve been caring for the younger kids of working parents at the Columbia Children’s Center on Stowell Road in Santa Maria.

“We have had children of parents that are in the police department, the fire department, nurses, doctors, lawyers, everybody”, says Columbia Children’s Center Director Corinne Pollard, “if you went out to any of these businesses around here I think you would find somebody who’s has a child whose gone through this center.”

The Santa Maria-based Shepard Eye Center has bought a portion of the sprawling, former Columbia Records production plant on Stowell Road where it plans to move its rapidly expanding business from its current location on East Main Street.

The City of Santa Maria is requiring more parking spaces for the new Shepard Eye Center which is looking to dig up and pave over the Columbia Children’s Center playground to satisfy that requirement.

“We are trying to find another site, its been very difficult”, Pollard says, “we would like to say here if there was any way for us to do that.”

A Shepard Eye Center spokesperson says its been negotiating for over a year with the owner of the Columbia Children’s Center and has offered to buy playground equipment for a new, smaller location on the other side of the center, but acknowledges the center may have no other choice but to relocate before the end of the year.

“They were trying to negotiate things, trying to see if we can could work things out so that the parking lot wouldn’t have to be as big as it is”, Pollard says, “that they wouldn’t take as much of our playground space, so they wouldn’t have to reduce our enrollment, so we could afford to stay here.”

“The owner has looked at a lot of other locations”, Pollard says, “we’ve run into problems because a lot of the buildings in the area are older, and it costs such an enormous amount of money to bring them up to code because we are dealing with children.”

News that the Columbia Children’s Center would be moving is unsettling to parents and staff Central Coast News spoke with.

“Because it is very easy to get to and the kids already know the layout”, says parent Elizabeth Ramos, “my son does not like change so I have a feeling its going to be rough on him, even if its just moving to a different building, its going to be a little bit difficult.”

“I was here when our sandbox was just a hole of water, we brought in all of the equipment, we designed the whole place, and its such a loss, how many child care centers are there in Santa Maria?”, says Pollard who’s been at the Columbia Children’s Center since it opened 22 years ago.

“Its been a wonderful place to work, I’m happy everyday that I come to work, the kids are funny and they’re sweet, and the parents are appreciative and I think that we do a good job for the community”, Pollard says fighting back tears, “I just wish that maybe the powers that be would just take a closer look at what a loss it would be because we’re going to be put out of work too, my staff, parents are going to be scrambling to try and find child care.”

A spokesperson for the Shepard Eye Center says it wants the Children’s Center to remain at its current location, but if that’s not possible, its hoping another landowner or property owner in Santa Maria will step up and a provide an affordable, new home for the Columbia Children’s Center.

In an email response to this story, City of Santa Maria Community Development Department Director Larry Appel wrote, “I want to assure you that the City has been doing all it can to respond to questions from the daycare operator. This is primarily a landlord/tenant issue, but we realize that our office will be involved with the permit process if they stay at this location or move elsewhere in the City. Staff is currently meeting with the various persons involved and we hope to assist them once they have finally decided to stay or leave.”

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