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West Yellowstone's only preschool center will continue on thanks to nonprofit's donation of building

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Posted at 8:28 PM, Mar 20, 2024

WEST YELLOWSTONE — A plan to ensure the financial future of the only preschool center in West Yellowstone was finalized Wednesday.

As the keys and deed to the Yellowstone Studies Center were handed over Wednesday morning, there were smiles all around. The Director of the Little Rangers Learning Center, Mia Bugajski, called the transfer, “amazing.”

Little Rangers was in danger of closing this June due to a lack of funding. Now, selling the building, valued at $1.75 million, will plug a $60,000-a-year funding gap for decades. Bugajski said, “This eased our minds a lot just knowing that the community was behind us.”

“Since they were in a little bit of financial trouble, what better way of helping,” said West Yellowstone businessman Clyde Seely.

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Seely helped start the Yellowstone Studies Center more than 20 years ago as a respite for college and graduate students learning and doing research in Yellowstone National Park. That use was lost after the COVID pandemic. The center has living facilities including shower rooms, a large kitchen, and classrooms. The building is also home to two rental apartments and two business locations.

Yellowstone Foundation Treasurer John Grebe said of the switch from higher education to preschool, “As long as the educational goal is being met, whether it's those that are studying for their graduate studies or the Pre-K students that are here, as long as that economic goal continues in West, that’s what we set out to do for the economic council, followed by the YSC Foundation and now it will continue here with the Little Rangers.”

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“We've gotten actually more families coming in to join us since the news came out that, yes, we are staying open,” said Bugajski. She said that 34 children now attend the preschool but adds that if more teachers can be hired, there is room in the present building to double that number. She added, “The majority of the families live right here in West Yellowstone and work for the school, for the park, for the small businesses in town.”

“We're at the twilight of our lives, and so we wanted to turn this facility over to someone that would carry on the legacy that we have tried to establish, said Seely.”

After the ceremony in front of the Yellowstone Studies Center, the group traveled a few blocks to the Little Rangers school where Bugajski presented the men with a thank you card. She told them, “Thank you guys for your generous donation to Little Rangers, the kids, and all the staff, made this thank you card for you.”

The large card on poster board was adorned with hand prints and a thank-you note that read, “Thank you for your incredible donation and generosity! It will go a long way in securing our financial future! We truly appreciate your goodwill and willingness to help out the community—helping Little Rangers to continue to grow and provide a much-needed service to the West Yellowstone community.”