Could Lincoln Oval Park be home to the county’s newest preschool? There’s a chance.

Oval Park Pre-School, conceptually designed by TETER, is featured on Visalia Times Delta.

Originally published on Visalia Times Delta on September 18, 2019 by Joshua Yeager

Long considered a hot spot for drugs and crime, Lincoln Oval Park could soon become Visalia’s newest pre-school site.

That’s the vision of Tulare County Superintendent Tim Hire, who has applied for a $4 million federal grant to transform the dilapidated park into a new Head Start center.

“Our vision is a school in the neighborhood, for the neighborhood, and it’s a shared vision for north Visalia,” he said. “It honors the history of schools that were (in Oval Park) dating back to the 1950s.”

Oval Park housed Visalia’s first high school, which was built in 1897. Following Redwood High School’s construction in 1911, the campus became Lincoln Grammar School until it was vacated in 1917.

The schoolhouse was bulldozed in 1922 after the city deemed the building unsafe, purchasing the property and re-branding it Lincoln Oval Park.

In the subsequent decades, the park acquired its current reputation.

“There’s been a stigma attached to the Oval since I started (in Visalia) with the police department in 1972,” Tulare County historian Terry Ommen said. “I’ve always had a little bit of a soft spot in my heart to the neglect the Oval has seen.

“I hope the park can come full circle and return to its history of being a resource to the families of north Visalia.”

A new vision
The proposal enjoys broad support from community organizers to congressional representatives.

“Head Start serves the heart of the San Joaquin Valley community, which has battled high crime, poverty, unemployment, and low educational attainment, ” Rep. Devin Nunes wrote in a letter to the director of Head Start.

“Given the (Valley’s) unique demographic, the need for additional early childhood services has become increasingly more valuable to our residents — funding for this grant would be instrumental to revitalizing the area.”

The preschool would house two classrooms and serve 40 children to start, Hire said, with room to expand “as the community’s needs grow.”

The campus would encompass the entirety of the park and include a new parking lot, school structures and fencing to protect children from highway traffic, according to a rendering submitted to Visalia City Council.

“This proposal will restore the park to its original purpose of serving children in the community,” Councilman Brian Poochigian said. “It would also serve as a catalyst to transform the whole Oval area.”