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Construction of the Early Learning Center now underway


Construction of the Early Learning Center of the Alisal Union School District is now underway

at the corner of Buckhorn and Falcon drives in Salinas. 


With Alisal Union School District student artists performing in the background, the District held a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, to mark the beginning of construction of its Early Learning Center at the corner of Buckhorn and Falcon Drives in East Salinas.


It was a festive occasion as it marked the next chapter of a collaboration among Alisal USD, the City of Salinas, Monterey County philanthropic organizations, and community groups. These groups all came together in 2015 to bring to fruition the construction of the center. 


“This is a great day for the Alisal Community.  Local government agencies worked with charitable groups, community organizations and individual community members to develop a program that will meet the needs of preschool age for years to come.” said Jim Koenig’s, Superintendent of Alisal Union School District.


"The groundbreaking ceremony is the commencement of what is to come,” Board Vice President Leticia García said. “With just a push of the shovel, and a flick of the dirt,  history will be made.   Many lives will be touched with the availability of the much needed preschool services this building will provide."


The history of the Early Learning Education Center dates back to 2001, when affordable housing builder CHISPA built 91 homes for low and moderate-income families and received a plot of land on the corner of Buckhorn Dr. and Falcon Dr. to be used to build daycare alternatives for young children. Since CHISPA specializes in building affordable housing, the property was transferred to the City of Salinas to find a developer for the site. To assist with the efforts, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) gave the City a $350,000 grant for construction. Salinas city officials did not find a suitable developer for the site and the project fell to the wayside.


The project re-gained traction in 2015, when HUD threatened to take away the grant. The Alisal Union School District stepped up then to develop the child care center, and convened a coalition of non-profit organizations and other collaborators interested in expanding early childhood development opportunities for the area's children. 


“Our District is swelling with pride for delivering on our promises, and this project is yet another example that we are doing our best to give our youngest children excellent infrastructure for excellent services,” Board Member José Antonio Jiménez said.  


“I first learned about the vision for this Early Learning Center nearly 8 years ago,” said Katy Castagna, president of United Way Monterey County, during the ceremony. “What was exciting about it was the collaboration and vision behind the effort.  Philanthropy, Educators, and civic organizations were coming together to dream about a better future for our earliest learners.  United Way wanted to be part of it.”  


In addition to United Way, the coalition included the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, CHISPA, First Five Monterey County, Building Healthy Communities, and Bright Beginnings. All of these organizations were represented Friday to mark the milestone. 


In a nod to the effort it takes to complete projects such as this, Councilman Tony Barrera asked all of the partners to join him at the podium. About 20 people responded to his call. 


This demonstrates the government is responsive, Councilman Barrera said, even when the response may be slow in coming. 


As part of their support for the building, the Monterey Peninsula Foundation contributed $1 million, United Way $400,000, CHISPA $350,000, and the City of Salinas $880,000 from federal funds – in addition to donating the land. Other grants will come from the Community Foundation for Monterey County and Sunlight Giving. The project will have a total cost of $8.5 million, and Alisal USD will cover about $5.8 millions. The remaining costs will be covered by Alisal USD. 


“This donation is part of multi-million-dollar commitment our Board of Directors made in 2018 to support capital projects in Alisal and surrounding neighborhoods that community members identified as priorities for children and families – especially new educational and recreation facilities,” Nancy Enterline, vice president of philanthropy for the Community Foundation of Monterey County, said during the ceremony. “These projects all stem from deeply collaborative efforts by residents and community partners to address inequities and barriers to prosperity in the region.” 


Philanthropic organizations have required the District to collaborate with community organizations in the construction and planning of activities as a condition of their grants. 


“Our north star has been to engage the community in the process,” Castagna said.  “We hope to continue to see parents and community members participating in decisions about the space and programming that is developed here in support of their children.”


The ceremony paid tribute to the late Alfred Díaz-Infante, who as chief executive officer of CHISPA was part of many conversations that took place to ensure the Early Learning Center became a reality. 


"The Child Development Center "Buckhorn" is a place where the community reflected their leadership and voice,” said Carmen Parra, a parent advocate who represented Bright Beginnings during the ceremony. “In honor of Mr. Diaz-Infante and all the collaborators, children will now have a safe and welcoming place where they can play and learn.” 


The building was designed by In Studio Architects, and construction will be in charge of Avila Construction – which also sponsored the event. Expected completion of the Early Learning Center will be August 2025.


Updated 10-30-2023