Alstonville Community Preschool is a ‘community’ preschool in the true sense of the word.
Founded in November 2010, Alstonville Community Preschool Inc was formed following an announcement that after 41 years of operation, Alstonville’s only preschool (Alstonville Baptist Community Preschool) intended to close. Parents and community members recognised a need to retain a community preschool in Alstonville and began working towards this goal. What began as a group of concerned parents proactively working together soon became a much larger community effort.
For two years a volunteer community group worked to identify a suitable venue for the preschool. More than 25 publicly and privately owned properties were considered either as permanent or temporary accommodation. However, being surrounded by a ‘green belt’ in an area where land is at a premium and commercial rents are high, suitable sites or buildings were hard to find. When no suitable premises could be found, Alstonville Community Preschool Inc. worked with Ballina Shire Council to identify a 4000m2 parcel of land at Crawford Park in Alstonville for the construction of a purpose built community preschool. In December 2012 councillors voted to re-categorise the Crawford Park site to land for community use.
However, with the existing preschool closing in December 2013 and no capital funding programs immediately available to develop the permanent site, efforts turned to identifying emergency temporary premises to ensure that a preschool service would be available to Alstonville families in 2014.
Due to a complete absence of available facilities that would meet the Early Childhood Education and Care Services Regulations, the community then worked with then local Member for Parliament, Don Page, Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, Brad Hazzard and Ballina Shire Council to submit a development application for the temporary change of use on a local tourist facility. It was envisaged this would create a temporary home for the preschool via a dual use facility where the tourism operation opened through school holidays and the preschool operated through term time. Each school holidays the preschool was completely packed away to make room for the café to re-open.
Submitting the Development Application for the temporary venue in July 2013 enabled Alstonville Community Preschool Inc. to apply for Service Approval and continue discussions with the Department of Education and Communities about operational funding. In August 2013 community representatives travelled to Sydney to meet with the Early Childhood Education and Care Directorate about this situation. Provisional consent from Ballina Council to occupy the premises for 2 years was gained and the committee began advertising for enrolments and staff. October 2013 saw Service Approval achieved; staff interviewed, Open days held and enrolments being confirmed.
The final three months of 2013 saw a tremendous amount of community spirit and goodwill in bringing this tourism facility to meet the standards needed to be an operational preschool. Volunteers erected fencing and screens to secure the premises, shipping containers were put in position for storage, a sandpit and garden was constructed almost entirely through donated materials and labour, furniture was constructed and donated, the Baptist Church donated educational equipment and resources and our community raised over $37,000 toward the project.
On the 3rd of February 2014 Alstonville Community Preschool opened its doors for the first time, fully staffed, fully enrolled and fully operational at the temporary premises.
The opening of the temporary venue only enabled the preschool to occupy the premises until December 2015. It became essential to keep firmly focused on the long term goal – a purpose built preschool at Crawford Park. Through persistent hard work the Management Committee and the broader community had success in achieving the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal grant for $4000 worth of new educational resources for the preschool. An application was also made for the Department of Education and Communities (DEC) Capital Works Program. In December 2013 it was announced that our application had been successful receiving $384,881 (exc. GST) of DEC capital funding toward the building of the new preschool.
A Town Planner, Civil Engineer and Environmental Engineer were then engaged to prepare the Development Application to Council. In February 2014 assistance was requested from Ballina Shire Council and in April of that year, councillors voted to contribute $120,000 (exc. GST) toward the excavation and preparation of the Crawford Park site. In May, representations were made to Minister Don Page and Hon Kevin Hogan for assistance toward the fit out and landscaping of the facility. With $504, 881 (exc. GST) now toward the project another $200,000 was needed for completion.
Architectural plans were finalised, site plans approved and the Development Application for a purpose built preschool at Crawford Park submitted. The turning of the sod occurred on May 21st 2015, and many children and their families attended in their construction hats and boots. This was the first big step to realizing the community’s dream of the first purpose built preschool for Alstonville.
During the latter part of 2015, building and landscaping occurred at pace, with the deadline of January 2016 to open in the new premises. Crucial financial support was obtained from Clubs NSW and Ballina and Tweed RSL clubs with the help of the Hon, Ben Franklin MLC, late in the year to ensure completion of the project in time.
The preschool opened its doors on February 1st 2016 and was officially opened by the Minister for Education, Leslie Williams on Saturday 20th February at a special community ceremony in the preschool grounds.
While overcoming these formidable barriers the Alstonville community has held strong in its resolve to provide the best start for our children as they embark on their educational journeys.