Effort Started For New Tonto Basin Preschool

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When a Tonto Basin resident realized the community was not going to get a much-needed preschool, she decided to take matters into her own hands and build one anyway.

Laura Schroeder has set the wheels in motion to have a new preschool built, similar to the original red schoolhouse next to the Tonto Basin Elementary School and library, by the end of the school year.

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Jacki Elston, preschool teacher, John Ketchem, principal and district superintendent of the Tonto Basin School District and Tonto Basin resident Laura Schroeder stand in the existing preschool room at the Tonto Basin Library on July 31.

The State Facility Board was originally going to build a 30x30 tin preschool starting in July, but after the state budget passed, the state legislature put a hold on all new school projects.

"The parents were really disappointed," said John Ketchem, principal and district superintendent of the Tonto Basin School District. The state said there would be no funds available until next July, but even then the new school may not be built.

"We thought, the heck with the state, why don't we just build one," Ketchem said.

Schroeder said she remembered when the community built the elementary school in the 1980s, solely with donations and no bond money.

"When I found out two weeks ago the money was gone, I thought this is ridiculous," Schroeder said. "Why don't we do it on our own."

"The county has said they will work with us to make it happen," Ketchem said.

Plans are already being drafted free of charge by Mike Hanich, based on designs of the original schoolhouse.

The preschool the state was to build was adequate, Ketchem said. But the new school will be based on the area's original red schoolhouse,

To make the school as close to the original as possible, residents who attended the school are adding their input. The finished school will be 1,200 square feet and accommodate 15 to 18 students.

Some of the electric wiring, concrete and lumber have already been donated. "We are waiting on the drawings to be done, so we know how much more money is needed," Schroeder said. Until the plans are completed the total cost of the project is unknown.

Fund-raisers will be held to raise the rest of the funds.

A nonprofit organization, the Tonto Basin Little Red Schoolhouse, is taking donations at the National Bank of Arizona. More information on donating is available by calling Schroeder at (928) 479-2493.

Last year, a preschool was created in a small room in the public library, after parents with special needs children asked the school if it could accommodate them.

State law says any children, age 3 to 5 years old, with learning or other disabilities, must be accommodated by public schools.

The school first opened with four children in Jacki Elston's preschool class, but quickly ballooned to 11, after parents in the area also wanted their children to attend.

"They are preschoolers and they are in a library, so they get distracted easily," Schroeder said. The new school will provide them with the space they need.

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