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Saving School : Nursery Scrambles to Raise Money Before Lease Runs Out

December 21, 1989|JANE BAILIE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A swimming pool filled with sand is part of the playground of the Parents and Childrens Nursery School in La Canada Flintridge. A ceaseless flow of children moves in and out of the pool, clearing the space between the sand and the edge with pint-sized strides and little leaps.

School officials are facing a bigger hurdle. They are trying to keep the school, the area's oldest, open.

A fund-raising effort is under way to buy the property before the lease expires in 1991.

The 1.5-acre property on Indianola Way between Foothill Boulevard and Interstate 210 consists of two 1947 single-story houses and a half-acre playground. A third house on the property is rented as a private residence.

The campaign began shortly after property owner and son of the school's founder, James Leonhard, told school officials in 1988 that he would not renew the lease after it expires June 1991.

"He's honoring the lease, but he wants his money," said school director Carol Anast.

School officials hope to raise $400,000 for a down payment on the property, for which they expect to pay about $1.5 million, Anast said.

So far $123,000 has been contributed by parents, grandparents, school board members, staff and corporate foundations.

About 2,500 children have attended the school since it was founded in 1942, Anast said.

Many of the current students are children and grandchildren of alumni. Anast said this educational lineage is helping with in the fund-raising campaign.

"It's definitely a point of focus in the community," Anast said.

The school is directing its fund-raising efforts to corporations, alumni and the public.

Anast said she hopes to raise $50,000 from an auction and garden party in July and $5,000 from a Pasadena Playhouse fund-raiser in April.

Even with the sizeable down payment, the school will have to raise its tuition 20% next year to afford the mortgage payments, Anast said.

Funding from enrollment should not pose a problem. The school's 90- to 120-person waiting list is a testament to the school's popularity. Each September about 90 students are admitted.

Founder Beth Leonhard served as the school's director from 1942 to 1978 and was on the board of directors until her death in 1987.

James Leonhard, a recently retired probation officer who attended Parents and Childrens Nursery School in the early 1940s, is not involved in the administration of the school.

Leonhard said he has no plans to put the property on the market in the near future and has given the school the first right of refusal on the property. He has not set a deadline by which time the school must come up with a purchase contract.

"If the school isn't able to purchase it, then we'll have to think about other plans," Leonhard said, declining to specify.

Anast has already begun the search for an another property. So far no suitable alternate sites has been found.

"We've been unable to find any other site to accommodate this number of children," she said, referring to the student body of 165.

The school started when Leonhard founded a cooperative preschool on the grounds of the Church of the Lighted Window for about 25 children.

It outgrew that site in two years and become an official nonprofit corporation, and Leonhard moved the school to the Red Cross buildings on Foothill Boulevard.

When the construction of the freeway meant the destruction of the Red Cross buildings in 1971, Leonhard purchased the property on Indianola Way and moved the school there in 1972. She bought the half-acre site east of the main property in 1973.

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