By Keysha Drexel
Rainy weather threatened to put a damper on last week’s groundbreaking for Operation Schoolhouse, but just as the ceremony was about to start, the clouds parted and the sun shone on the former site of McElwain Elementary School on Montevallo Road.
Students sporting sunny yellow T-shirts, teachers, staff members, volunteers and supporters of PreSchool Partners gathered at the future site of Operation Schoolhouse on March 11 to celebrate what the organization’s executive director called “a dream come true.”
“This is such a happy day for us,” Lella Carl Hamiter said. “We’re so happy that we can tell our students that dreams really do come true. That is literally what happened with Operation Schoolhouse.”
PreSchool Partners was founded in 1995 after volunteer tutors realized that the elementary age children they were tutoring were starting school without the skills they needed for academic success.
For almost 20 years, PreSchool Partners has served children in north Birmingham by giving them more than 800 hours of instruction during the school year. Students are taught specific academic lessons to get them ready for kindergarten. Their parents also participate in the program and learn how they can help their children prepare for academic success.
Hamiter said PreSchool Partners has never really had a home of its own, which makes the new school even more exciting.
“We have shared space, rented space, moved and searched and finally, our dream to have our own building specifically designed for our needs has become possible,” Hamiter said.
Hamiter said every person involved with a nonprofit organization dreams of someone knocking on their door and offering to build them a new facility.
“For us, that dream came true,” Hamiter said. “When you work with 3 and 4-year-olds, you hear a lot of talk about superheroes and for us, the real superheroes are Mike and Kathy Mouron.”
The Mourons purchased the former McElwain Elementary School building and property for PreSchool Partners, Hamiter said.
“Thank you, Mike and Kathy, for this incredible gift,” she said.
Mike Mouron, chief executive officer of Capstone Development Cos., said he was intrigued when he first heard about how PreSchool Partners’ program involves both young children and their parents.
“I became committed to help when I saw firsthand the passion with which the faculty and staff approach this important task and learned of the great success they have realized over 19 years,” Mouron said.
Cassandra Givens of Birmingham was on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony and said she has seen the evidence of the program’s success in her two children who attended PreSchool Partners when they were 3 and 4 years old.
“They are both honor roll students now, and I don’t know if that would have happened if they hadn’t been involved in PreSchool Partners,” Givens said.
Givens said Operation Schoolhouse is a great investment for the entire community.
“There are so many more children in our community who need this program, and this new school is going to make a difference in a lot of lives,” she said.
PreSchool Partners Board President John Hargrove said construction will begin soon on the new 12,000-square-foot building at 4447 Montevallo Road South.
“The goal is to be moved into our new home by Jan. 1, 2015, which will coincide with our 20th anniversary,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove said the officials have raised about half of the $2.6 million capital campaign goal they set for Operation Schoolhouse.
Capstone Real Estate purchased the property at no cost to PreSchool Partners. Hoar Construction Company has agreed to serve as the general contractor on the new school at no cost to PreSchool Partners, Hamiter said.
Architect Pete Pritchard is also donating his services, and several lawyers will be providing pro bono legal services, she said.
The new facility will allow PreSchool Partners to expand its program by 60 percent to serve more families, Hamiter said.
“Operation Schoolhouse will give us a facility that is safer and serves the needs of our families better. We will be able to add facets to our program that we don’t currently have, such as a rainy day activity room, parent education rooms, a conference room and offices for all of the staff,” Hamiter said.
Officials said the new facility will also allow the PreSchool Partners program to become licensed.
“But most of all, it will be a place to call home for the first time in 20 years,” Hamiter said.
For more information on PreSchool Partners, visit www.preschool-partners.org. For more information on Operation Schoolhouse, visit operationschoolhouse.com.