The Saco School Department and Saco School Board say the lease they entered into with the owners of the Toddle Inn is void and they want their money back. Journal Tribune file Photo

SACO — The Saco School Department and Saco School Board have notified the owners of the Toddle Inn property on Willey Road that the lease between the two entities is void and has demanded that the money paid by the Saco School Department to the Toddle Inn be returned.

The school department entered into a lease with owners of the Toddle Inn on May 1, intending to use the building, located in the Spring Hill business park, for a pre-kindergarten program, but that didn’t happen.

City officials maintained that covenants prevent both ownership and use of non-taxpaying entities in the business park.

As well, a city electrical inspector found that the property had not been inspected since 2005, there had never been an electrical inspection or permits issued for the pool and pool house building at the property, and when the former Toddle Inn building was converted from natural gas to propane, no electrical inspection of the heating or cooling equipment took place, according to a Sept. 18 Journal Tribune story by Liz Gotthelf. The city ordered that power to the building be disconnected. The school department had appealed that decision, noting it had found an alternative location for the pre-k program for the fall, but the City Council ruled that the city was justified in the disconnection.

There were other appeals.

The Saco School Department and Saco School Board  issued a statement on Tuesday.

“On May 1, 2019, Toddle Inn leased the property at 5 Willey Road to the Saco School Department. Toddle Inn represented in the lease that it had full authority to lease the premises to the School Department for a public pre-kindergarten program and that the lease would not require any approvals,” the document  states.

“Upon learning that city approvals were needed, the School Department notified Toddle Inn, but Toddle Inn failed to seek and obtain the necessary approvals. Following review by the Economic Development Commission, the City Council and the Planning Board, the city has disallowed the School Department’s use of 5 Willey Road for any purpose, including for purposes of operating a pre-kindergarten program as contemplated by the lease,” the document further states. “The School Department has notified Toddle Inn that the lease is void and has demanded the prompt return of all payments made by the School Department.”

When asked for comment, Toddle Inn attorney Timothy Bryant issued the following statement:

“Toddle Inn has been a proud member of the Saco community and Southern Maine for decades,” wrote Bryant.” Toddle Inn remains, as always, committed to quality childcare and early childhood education. When the Saco School Department expressed a desire to utilize Toddle Inn’s Saco facility to accommodate its pre-kindergarten programs, my client worked collaboratively with the Saco School Department to reach a fair and suitable agreement to make Toddle Inn’s building available. In reliance on the validly executed lease agreement, Toddle Inn closed its Saco facility in order to accommodate the greater needs of the community.”

“The decision and lease Toddle Inn entered into, was done carefully, thoughtfully, and with the support and cooperation of the Saco School Department,” Bryant continued. “Thereafter, Toddle Inn honored the terms of the lease. While it is certainly not my client’s preference, Toddle Inn is prepared to defend its legal rights set forth in the lease.”

The lease came about when the Saco School Department determined it needed more classroom space for its expanding pre-kindergarten this fall. The Saco School Board authorized the superintendent to sign a 10-year lease with Toddle Inn to use the former daycare facility in the Spring Hill business park, according to a July 27 Journal Tribune story.

The 10-year lease included a $24,000 security deposit, plus $24,000 a month rent, with a 2 percent increase each year of the 10-year period. The lease is a triple net lease, meaning that the lessee must pay real estate taxes, building insurance and maintenance, in addition to rent and utilities, according to the July 27 Journal Tribune story.

Saco School Superintendent Dominic DePatsy was unavailable for comment on the statement on Tuesday at the newspaper’s print deadline, and Saco School Board Chair Garrett Abrahamson did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

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