After 63 years, Ridgefield kindergarten loses its lease at Lounsbury: new property ‘is not easy to come by’

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

RIDGEFIELD — After more than six decades, the Ridgefield Community Kindergarten needs to find a new home.

The management at Lounsbury House, where the school has been located for 63 years, decided recently not to renew the school’s rental agreement.

The school, which has been asked to vacate by June 30, 2023, is now appealing to the community for support in extending their lease and finding a new location.

The kindergarten, also known as RCK Preschool, is a private nonprofit nursery school that holds classes on the lower level of the Lounsbury House, a nonprofit landmark at 316 Main St.

One-year extension request

At a recent Board of Selectman meeting, RCK head teacher Lisa DelGiudice said she’s met the board and the director of the Lounsbury House “to explain that in this market, a suitable property for our preschool is not easy to come by with a little over a year’s notice.”

The preschool requires a minimum of 2,700 square feet of space, with three bathroom toilets, parking for 40 cars and a safe grassy playground area.

Additionally, she said the kindergarten has asked the Lounsbury House leadership to extend their lease until June 2024 “at minimum, although we would like to stay there for another 63 years,” she said.

“We have explained to them how our enrollment process works and that we need one more school year to find a suitable home and or build one and enroll the students,” DelGiudice said.

If it’s not granted an extension, “the survival of our 63-year-old nonprofit preschool is in jeopardy,” she said.

Although the Lounsbury House is a town-owned property, the town does not have authority to specify a tenant.

However, First Selectman Rudy Marconi said the Board of Selectmen sent a letter to the Board of Directors of the Lounsbury House in support of the school.

“RCK has served residents of Ridgefield for over 60 years, molding children’s minds into creative thinkers and continuing with the nonprofit model throughout the years,” Marconi said.

He told The Lounsbury House that “making a decision not allowing the RCK to return to their location would not be in alignment with your mission to preserve the history of our town and benefit the community. We urge you to reconsider the Lounsbury House’s role in the town as a community center and consider reversing the decision made regarding RCK.”

Ridgefield resident Joseph Williams, father of 5-year-old Zoe Williams who attends RCK Preschool, said he’s sorry the school has been asked to relocate.

“My daughter has just graduated so she’ll be entering the Ridgefield public schools. ... This was her first time in a PreK/day-care setting, so my wife and I were concerned since she basically had a gap year, due to the pandemic,” he said.

“I’ve really appreciated how kind-natured and loving the staff are, who have done an amazing job helping my daughter not just learn the normal A B C’s but also help her with socialization, which is so important for that age,” Williams said.

‘Greater central hub’

In a statement to Hearst Connecticut Media, Suzanne Brennan, executive director of The Lounsbury House, said the facility is reimagining its future as a “greater central hub” for community meetings, concerts, local events and recreation.

“Ridgefield has grown dramatically as a place to live, work and play for more than 24,000 people,” Brennan said. “The house is working hard to grow with the demands of community and serve a larger population not restricted to the limitations of hosting 45 students.”

In the statement, she added that there are “significant challenges” in hosting young children in a preschool setting on “busy Lounsbury House grounds — and within a historic 126-year old building.”

Additionally, Brennan said RCK was gifted a “generous” 16-month lease extension “to find more suitable space to host a successful preschool — and with no rental increase.”

Throughout its rental history, RCK has been gifted a range of amenities, monthly utilities and rental rates that required Lounsbury House, as a nonprofit, to reevaluate so it may continue its mission to serve all of community, she said.

On RCK Preschool’s Facebook page, Director Jennifer Cade suggested that community members could help the school find a new location, including joining its “New Home” task force to spearhead the search, identification, remodel and move.

Additionally, Cade suggested the community join RCK’s fundraising committee.