By Laurie Lucas The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.
It requires patience to build a school, as Millie Lee found out.
Ten years after the Laguna Niguel homemaker-turned-entrepreneur bought nearly 1.5 acres of commercially zoned land in Murrieta, her $3 million investment is finally a reality.
She's just opened the Children's Lighthouse, the second learning center of a Texas-based franchise for kids 6-weeks to 12-years old to debut in California and the 41st location nationwide.
Five years ago, Brian and Aubree Fuentes launched the first one in the state at 19743 Lurin Ave. in the Orangecrest neighborhood of Riverside. They tore down an old house on the property to build, furnish and staff a 10,000-square-foot school with 10 classrooms and 27 employees.
Children's Lighthouse Learning Centers, established in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1995, has 41 schools operating and 35 additional locations under development.
While Lee was growing up in South Korea, her mother, a principal, was her role model. "Education was always important, a value I've conveyed to my children, too," Lee said.
Eldest daughter Rachel Lee, 28, works at the Murrieta Lighthouse. Other daughter Michelle Lee, 26, is a student at Columbia University. Son Eric Lee, 23, is a medical student in New York City. Lee's husband, Yoon Paul Lee, 64, is a retired businessman.
Millie Lee built two structures in a parklike setting at 23656 Clinton Keith Road. The 11,800-square-foot school with a tower has eight classrooms for pre- and after-school programs, a kitchen to provide daily meals and snacks and a playground with a splash pad.
Among the security features is code-controlled door locking, computerized check-in plus classroom surveillance for Internet monitoring.
The 13,200-square-foot building will be used for extra-curricular activities, perhaps martial arts and dance.
The Murrieta Lighthouse opened with 25 students and four teachers, but hopes to increase enrollment to the center's 180-pupil capacity and 20 teachers. She charges preschoolers $215 a week; infants, $265; and after-school, $145.
After her three children were grown, Lee felt it was her turn to pursue her vision. "This is my first job," she said with a laugh. "I believe in the Lighthouse's curriculum," she said. "The learning that we provide enriches children with lessons and skills that will last a lifetime."