As a lifelong resident, Iswari Espana knows the Mission like few do. But it took having children of his own for him to learn how difficult it is to raise a kid in the city.

“You realize there’s so little access to childcare and community schools,” Espana said. So, in 2016, he brought his child to Mission Kids Co-Op because of its community-centric role in the neighborhood — and its affordability.  

In the co-op’s 10 years at 1050 South Van Ness, a lot of parents could tell stories like this. And now, Mission Kids — which has 12 staff and 50 kids in its pre-school and childcare programs — is hoping to stave off closure by moving a few blocks down the road into a new building of its own.

Directors from the Mission Kids Co-Operative, along with an in-house project lead, and architects from Jackson Liles held a public meeting  earlier this week to announce their proposal for a new childcare building. According to one of the co-op’s directors, Christina Maluenda Marchiel, the group is three weeks away from closing a deal on a new property just two blocks away, at 969 Treat Avenue.

It would be the permanent site of a new childcare center: a two-story building with indoor and outdoor spaces, a miniature rooftop playground, and even a kitchen where kids could help cook. And it would stave off an existential crisis: Two years ago, staff found out their landlords weren’t interested in keeping the childcare center on-site past the pending expiration of the co-op’s lease.

Maluenda Marchiel said getting ownership of the Treat Avenue lot would be like finally finding their “forever home,” but, in order to have time to build it, the co-op was forced to negotiate a short, two- year lease with its landlords at a hefty markup. Still, she considers this to be more than worth it.

“It’s very challenging [to find property] in San Francisco, especially for childcare centers,” she explained. “There are different requirements. Many properties we looked at aren’t even viable.”

The triangular plot along Treat sits next to a gravel lot and across the street from Parque Ninos Unidos, and was the former site of a roofing company. The childcare center would increase its capacity, from 50 to 100 kids, and double the staff, to 24 full- and part-time employees. Children could play under supervision at the park or on the property’s play areas. Construction estimates for the new building are expected to be $3 million.

The site of a former school for Saint Mary & Saint Martha Lutheran Church, 1050 South Van Ness serves not only as a child care center, but also a headquarters for the Office and Professional Employees union Local 29 and a men’s and LGBTQ homeless shelter from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. As a result, the childcare center has to limit care hours to 3 p.m., pack up the toys on roll-out carts, and lock up for the day before the homeless shelter is opened. With its own location, Mission Kids co-op directors said they’ll be able to expand hours into the evening.

The cooperative hired Jackson Liles, a city-based architecture firm, and tasked it with designing a building that would fit in the odd-shaped triangle lot on Treat — but also add to and improve the center’s offerings. Julie Jackson, one of the architects at the presentation, said it was still too early in the planning process to produce a rendering but did show initial plans for the building.

“In terms of the aesthetics, we want it to be special. Part of the design challenge is to make something unique for the preschool,” Jackson said.

Floor plans courtesy of Jackson Liles Architecture.

Jackson Liles has worked on 11 major projects in the city, including the Friends of Potrero Hill, the Storybook Preschool and the Chinatown YMCA. The firm said the plan is to have the school open in 2020.

Mission Kids receives grants from the city’s Office of Early Care and Education and is funded through subsidies and private funds. According to Maluenda Marchiel, 75 percent of all families that enroll at Mission Kids receive a subsidy, and the rest pay out of pocket.