Pee Wee Preschool reopens after the Camp Fire

The only left standing preschool in the town prepares to reopen their doors in September.

Posted: Aug 22, 2019 5:58 PM

PARADISE, Calif. - The only left standing preschool in the town prepares to reopen their doors in September.

"I'm very excited and I'm very hopeful but to be honest with you I'm very nervous because you know we do need to have more children to support the expenses," owner Mary Ann Cleary said.

Before the Camp Fire the pee wee preschool had 83 students and 12 employees. Now they're dropped to about 20 kids and five employees.

"Yeah that's insecure but I'm not going to give up," she said.

Cleary opened the Pee Wee Preschool in 1981, but moved into this building in 2004.

Cleary was watching on her iPad as the town ripped through her hometown.

"I was thinking about my whole traumatic experience this is my life my livelihood yeah and the building is it gonna be burned," Cleary said.

"In the following days it was is it there is it not here and we actually called the phone number and the voicemail came on and we were like well the voicemail came on so it's very possible that it's there," director Hannah Smith said.

Not even 20 from the school once stood two Ponderosa pine trees covered in sap.

Cleary says those trees were removed just two weeks before the Camp Fire - now looking at the stumps they're completely charred and burned.

Cleary told Action News Now that removal saved her building.

"And also the concrete wall the City of Paradise made us put in when we were building this facility for the nose from the Chinese restaurant saved this building as well.

Smith grew up in Paradise. She has worked at the school for seven years.

"I love working here it's always been its just a family," Smith said. "When I see those names pop up on our list I'm like oh I'm so glad they're coming back here I mean they hold a special place in my heart."

Smith lost her home in the Camp Fire but continued to stay positive for her future as well as the school's.

"This building is just as much my home and my home was," she said.

Cleary said Smith was her rock and inspiration to bring the school back to the ridge.

"Cause she wouldn't give up there's a point you know you're numb in the beginning and you just don't know what to do and I'm 62 years old and I could possibly retire," Cleary said.

But Cleary felt an obligation to reopen her school.

"There was some feeling some reason why it survived," she said.

Cleary told Action News Now she's excited to see some familiar faces on the first day of school.

"That they can see the same teachers the equipment everything is different inside new but similar but they're all set up the same way so it's going to be very familiar to them and hopefully grounding," Cleary said.

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