The City Council selected a Christian daycare center to build a facility on a 1-acre lot at the corner of Main Street and Laurel Road, despite concerns that the city's selection process has been unfair.
Celebration Christian Preschool was selected out of three applicants on a 3-2 vote Tuesday night, based largely on its successful operation in Brentwood and its financial backing.
To me there is one that is clearly more outstanding than the others, said Councilwoman Pat Anderson, noting the numerous professional degrees earned by Celebration directors and the awards the school has received. If I take a look at the financial ability, that is a very strong reason (for selecting it). I have a fiscal responsibility to the citizens of the community.
Celebration is willing to build it, purchase the land; they have grants and are ready to go. (Another applicant) Delta Kids wants the city to carry the loan and the city to lease the property. I can't see that as being the best way to move forward, even if all else was equal. (Celebration) will meet our needs, will handle 144 children and be something we can all be proud of.
Councilmembers Kevin Romick and Carol Rios agreed that it makes sense to go with the best-financed daycare center applicant. Celebration, with the help of grants and a loan, plans to spend $2.1 million to get the facility built and operating. That includes $305,000 paid to Oakley's government to purchase the city-owned lot.
I think it comes down to the financial responsibility that I have as an elected official to make sure we don't get into a situation where we have to take over a project, said Rios. We just can't. There's no money in the coffers to take over a project of this size.
I would support Celebration. I believe they have the talent and the know-how and will be capable of putting a project of this size in place and serving our city for many years.
Councilman Brad Nix and Mayor Bruce Connelley voted against Celebration, however, arguing that the city's selection process has been flawed.
A fair process is how you get fairness, said Nix. If you don't have a fair process, you don't get a good result. I have a concern about that in this particular case. Some of the things are unintentional. I think we have attempted to do in effect a beauty pageant for child care, and it's been botched.
Nix said staff did not get the word out to many daycare centers that the city was seeking applicants interested in building a facility on the city-owned lot.
He said misinformation had been put out about the future widening of Laurel Road that caused the Delta Kids owners Richard and Mercrey LaFayette to downscale the design of their building, for which they lost points on the scoring of their application, while Celebration designed a much larger facility.
Most definitely we are going to be widening Laurel Road, said Nix. It's ludicrous that somebody in staff didn't know that. It raised a question of whether they (the LaFayettes) are being treated fairly.
He also pointed out that Celebration is offering less for the city-owned lot ($305,000) than another applicant, the Maven School, which offered $350,000.
If we are to look out for the taxpayers, we go with the one that wants to give us the most money for the land, said Nix, adding that the city should auction off the lot and sell it to the highest bidder, with the restriction that the land can be used only for a child care center.
Connelley agreed, saying that the city had botched the process by producing separate daycare center grant applications one for the 1-acre lot, another for equipment purchases issued simultaneously, creating confusion for the applicants.
We made a mistake and ought to live up to that, said Connelley. Let's start over and accomplish the goal with a procedure that supports the separation of the two items.
Concerns were also raised that there could be a church-state conflict caused by the city doing business with a Christian-centered operation. But City Attorney Alison Barratt-Green said that there is not a problem because Celebration is open to all children, regardless of their family's religious affiliation.
Sherman Balch, founder of the school, told the council that his school's mission has been to become such a quality facility that it would attract families from all religions as well as atheists.
Anderson made the motion to approve Celebration, saying that the process has been fair; we did the best we can do. The application was clear and there's an outstanding applicant that will bring something forward that we have been waiting for for )a long time.
For more information, go online to www.celebrationschools.com.