SACO — On Friday, May 1, the city of Saco said it had reached a tentative agreement that would allow the Saco School Department to use a facility in the city’s business park to operate its Pre-Kindergarten program.

Prior to finalizing the agreement, the city’s Codes and Planning Office will review the Toddle Inn building at 5 Willey Road, according to a statement from City Administrator Bryan Kaenrath.

Under the tentative agreement, the Saco School Department would enter into a five-year lease with the owners of   Toddle Inn. The owners will continue to pay all real estate taxes along with personal property taxes on their property that remains with the building.

One year ago, on May 1, 2019, the School Department entered a 10-year, $24,000 per month lease with owners of the Toddle Inn to use their Willey Road building in the Spring Hill Business Park for Pre-Kindergarten classes, but the  program never moved into the building.

City officials said that covenants of the business park prevented ownership and use of buildings there by non-taxpaying entities; that the building’s electrical system had not been inspected since 2005; and that there had never been an electrical inspection or permits issued for the pool and pool house building at the property. They further noted that 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.

The School Department notified the owners in November that it considered the lease void and demanded the return of money it had already paid. Kaenrath said the School Department stopped paying rent on the property that month.

According to Kaenrath, the terms of the five-year lease will save taxpayers “significant expense” since the School Department won’t have to buy or build space for the Pre-K program.

Once the review process by the Code and Planning Offices is complete, “the parties intend to issue a final public statement,” Kaenrath said.

The recent statement comes after the Saco City Council approved a settlement agreement on the matter on Monday, April 27. Terms of the settlement weren’t released at that time.

Word that a tentative conclusion to the Toddle Inn saga was being contemplated first emerged in late February.

On Feb. 24, the Saco City Council approved a motion  to allow Kaenrath to execute a settlement agreement if the Saco School Department and Toddle Inn also agreed to execute the agreement. Conditions were to include that the Codes Enforcement Office grant a new occupancy permit authorizing the use of the Willey Road facility for a public/private school, and a review by the city planner of conditions imposed on the site plan permit for the property. The vote was 6 to 1, with Councilor Nathan Johnston dissenting.

The Saco School Board approved a similar motion two days later.

The agreement is good for Pre-K students and taxpayers, according to the May 1 release.

“Toddle Inn’s facility was built specifically for children’s needs and will help them adjust to their first public school experience by offering a safe and welcoming atmosphere,” the release states. It noted that the building was constructed and designed specifically for younger students.

“This separate space will also have a positive impact on enrollment and programming in other school buildings by not placing an additional stress on already limited classroom and land space,” the release states, and no modular classrooms will be used as are currently used for some Pre-K classes.

Staff Writer Tammy Wells contributed to this report.

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