Sunshine Center plans to close Lexington office by July.

The economy has not been kind to one area school, which is being forced to consolidate its facilities.

The Sunshine Center in Independence will close its Lexington Avenue facility next month and consolidate students at its Salisbury Road facility because of declining enrollment.

Beth Grubb, executive director, said the move has been planned for almost six months, since the newest facility at 18400 E. Salisbury Road opened last year.

She said the reason is simple – more families are choosing to keep their children at home than send them to places like the Sunshine Center because of the struggling economy.

“The economy has been tough on us,” she said. “It just is not cooperating with trying to run a business right now.”

The Sunshine Center first opened in 1975, and has been using the Lexington Avenue facility since 1991.

 Grubb said the Salisbury Road location was chosen to consolidate the students because it has been recently renovated and is larger than the Lexington facility.

Grubb said currently 90 children are served at the Salisbury location, while only 32 attend the original facility, 607 W. Lexington Ave. Some of the children from Lexington were moved over to the newer facility in January. Grubb said this final move, set to take place prior to July 1, is the completion of the consolidation plan.

“We opened the Salisbury building because at the time, we had a lot of kids on the waiting list,” she said. “We had decided that it was time to expand, but now we feel it is better to serve all of the children at one location.”

 The Sunshine Center is a comprehensive early-intervention program for children with and without disabilities. In addition, the center offers speech, physical and occupational therapy as well as early education. The goal of the not-for-profit organization is to prepare children to enter the school system by the time they reach kindergarten.

Grubb confirmed that daily rates for parents who receive state subsidies were raised in January, causing some families to leave the Sunshine Center. The state provides subsidies for low-income parents in order to send their children to a day-care facility while they work. The subsidies are sent to the Sunshine Center directly.

Grubb said in the past, those families were charged only $5 per day, far less than the center’s daily tuition. The decision was made to charge families the difference between what the state reimburses and the cost of tuition for parents, an increase that was as much as $20 per day for some families, depending on the age. In comparison, families without a state subsidy pay as much as $40 a day, for a child birth to 2 years, for full-time care. The tuition for children 2 years and older who attend full-time is $33 per day.

“We did lose some families when the rates were raised, but that is not the reason we are closing the Lexington facility,” she said. “The plan to close the Lexington facility was in place before that happened.”

Rumors have suggested the Independence School District could be interested in purchasing the Lexington facility to house its head start/early education programs. However, Superintendent Jim Hinson was not in the office Friday to comment on the possibility.

As of right now, Grubb said the Sunshine Center will keep the Lexington location and renovate it for future use. She said it is the hope to re-open the facility once the economy turns around and enrollment numbers begin to increase.

“From what I know today, we are keeping the building,” she said. “We want to do some work on it so that space is available once numbers begin to pick up.”