It was a rare sight at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday morning: cheering, high-fiving and tears of joy.
Several Planada residents, who traveled to the board meeting to support the opening of an early education program, let the supervisors know just how happy they were after the unanimous board vote.
"I'm elated. The center is out there and we're ready to get started," said Deborah Peguero Clipper, executive director of child and family services at the Stanislaus County Office of Education, which will run the program.
Before Tuesday's meeting, the completed building along Plainsburg Road on the outskirts of Planada stood empty, taunting residents of the town, which is lacking in preschool availability.
The center was approved in 2008 as part of the larger Felix Torres Farm Worker Housing Center project. According to approved planning documents, the child care facility could open only after the housing units were constructed and occupied. In addition, 75 percent of the kids enrolled at the center had to live in the Torres Housing Center.
The housing complex is being built by the Merced County Housing Authority, but has yet to break ground.
The supervisors voted on two separate issues that make the center's early opening possible. First, the supervisors ruled that the project didn't need an environmental review beyond the study done for the housing complex. Second, the board waived the two rules that kept the center from opening before the housing.
"This is for the kids," said Board Chairman Jerry O'Banion before the vote. "What's a better way to keep kids out of harm's way and give them an education?"
Both motions passed 4-0 (Supervisor Deidre Kelsey was absent).
The final unanimous vote elicited a roar of applause and cheering from the crowd. Some audience members even began to cry.
The child care center includes five modular buildings. Twenty-one staffers would provide care to 32 infants and toddlers, as well as 40 preschoolers. All the children will have low-income farmworkers as parents.
The center will also provide literacy and math programs to children, and parenting and other courses to their families. The annual operating budget will be upward of $550,000, Peguero Clipper said.
The planned housing complex could eventually include 72 housing units for seasonal farmworkers and 52 units for year-round farmworkers. Funding from the USDA could make a summer groundbreaking possible, a housing authority representative told the board.
Reporter Danielle E. Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.