SACO — The city is giving the Saco School Department 10 days to move its pre-K program out of the former Toddle Inn building and to a new location for the coming school year.

After a successful preliminary year, the Saco School Department decided to expand its pre-K program and intends to serve about 128 students in the fall.

With the need for more room, the school department signed a lease with the owner of the former Toddle Inn Child Care building at 5 Willey Road, located in the city’s Spring Hill business park.

The Saco School Department signed a lease with the Toddle Inn to use the Willey Road building for the district’s pre-K program. But the city administrator says the lease violates covenants for the business park that forbid non-taxpaying entities from locating there. Liz Gotthelf/Journal Tribune

At first look, the property seems like the perfect location for a pre-K program. The building is designed with the needs of small children in mind, with a classroom layout, and the site is in a quiet location that’s easily accessible from Route 1 in Saco.

But the school department sent parents a letter Friday indicating that the city will not issue a certificate of occupancy for the Willey Road building.

“We received a letter dated July 19, 2019, from the city administrator stating that the Code Enforcement Department will not issue a certificate of occupancy for the facility on Willey Road (site of Toddle Inn) for our preschool program. We are reviewing our next steps to move our preschool program forward. We thank you for your continued patience,” said the statement issued by the school department Friday afternoon.

Saco City Administrator Kevin Sutherland and other city officials say that a public school cannot operate at the 5 Willey Road location, as covenants in the Spring Hill business park prevent non-taxpaying entities from locating there.

On June 19, Saco Code Enforcement Officer Richard Lambert and  Saco City Attorney Timothy Murphy sent a letter to Cheryl Carrier, the owner of the Toddle Inn group of daycare facilities.

In the letter, the city stipulated that the intended use of the Saco pre-K school is not allowed at the 5 Wiley Road location, and gave the building owner 30 days to “work out an agreement with the Saco schools to terminate their lease, and to use the premises going forward for any permitted use.”

The city, having not heard back from Carrier, sent a letter from Lambert and Murphy to Bill Stockmeyer, the school’s attorney, on Friday.

In the letter, the city reiterated that covenants prevent public schools and non-taxable entities from operating in the Spring Hill business park.

The letter, directs the school department to leave the 5 Willey Road property by July 29.

“This letter is intended to afford the schools ten (10) days to find an alternative location for this use and remove all of its belongings – if any – from the premises,” Murphy and Lambert said.

If the school department doesn’t move out of the 5 Willey Road building by July 29, the city will have to pursue further action, Sutherland said in an interview at City Hall.

Because a school is not an allowed use in the business park, a certificate of occupancy cannot be granted for the school at that  location, he said.

Without a certificate of occupancy, which assures the building is in compliance with local building codes, the school will likely not be able to get the building insured, he said .

“At this point, the building can’t be insured, so we can’t have kids in there. Bottom line is safety for our children,” he said.

Sutherland said city staff have been working on finding other possible locations for Saco’s pre-K program, which is due to begin in September. He said given the short time frame, the schools may have to move the program to a temporary location this year, with one option being to utilize available classroom space in Biddeford.

“There will be pre-K,” Sutherland said.

Carrier did not respond to emails or return phone calls inquiring about Toddle Inn’s future plans.

Liz Gotthelf — 207-780-9015

[email protected]