As construction of a new early childhood center progresses, Washington School District officials are meeting to discuss how programming will look once the center is up and running next year.
“When you begin talking about the intimate details you begin visualizing what the learning environment is going to look like as well as how it will function,” Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer told The Missourian. “This is exciting and we are very much looking forward to getting the center open.”
The 25,000-square-foot center is being built on the Washington West Elementary campus off Highway 100.
VanLeer said construction is on schedule. Once completed, it will house three programs under one roof — early childhood special education, Parents as Teachers and all of the in-town preschools.
Currently, early childhood special education utilizes trailers on the Washington West campus and Parents as Teachers is located in the Technology and Learning Center off Highway 47. Preschool sites have varied year to year depending on where space is available.
The target date for completion is this summer with the center opening at the start of the 2014-15 school year.
Behind the scenes, VanLeer said she has met with directors for all three programs, along with Assistant Superintendent Dr. Brendan Mahon, Special Services Director Rachael Franssen and the district architect from Hoener & Associates, to make interior color selections.
“Additionally, we are scheduled to meet later this month to discuss staffing and academic programming for the center,” she said. “It is time for us to have a discussion about being an early learning program versus three programs that work in isolation of one another.”
VanLeer said all three programs perform at very high levels on their own, and staff have always worked closely together, but being under one roof will require some adjustment.
“We have to merge the family under one roof,” she said. “We will discuss the ‘center’ approach and make plans to deliver top of the line services.
“Something new to our program will be the start of an infant/toddler room,” she noted. “We haven’t served that age group before, at least not outside of the work our parent educators do. This will be a new adventure.”
Meet With ECC
School officials also have been talking to East Central College about how the new center creates multiple opportunities for both students in Washington, sending students from other school districts that attend the Four Rivers Career Center, and ECC students interested in child care and education.
“The center could have a classroom, leased by ECC, for classroom instruction purposes,” VanLeer said. “The college could provide an instructor to teach child development classes utilizing curriculum that prepares them to work in licensed child care facilities or begin a degree in pursuit of a career in education.”
Students would then be able to complete their field observation hours, assist with screenings and learn from staff working with pre-kindergarten students from literally infant to school age, she said.
“These are still just preliminary discussions,” VanLeer said. “Final decisions have not been made, but we are in the planning stages.”
Mahon said it’s exciting to see the progress being made both at the site and in regards to programming.
He said the concrete slab foundation has been poured, and the electric and plumbing under that slab are in place.
“The framing (exterior walls) are in the process of being constructed,” he said. “We hope this is completed by the end of the month.”
Mahon said the trusses are scheduled to be delivered and will start to be put in place the last week of October or the first week of November.
“Exterior colors have been selected and we are in the process of selecting interior colors,” he added.
When completed, the new center will have approximately 14-16 classrooms and other rooms to conduct screenings and offices. Classroom cubby cabinets, LED lighting and vinyl plank flooring are part of the interior design.
The project also includes a parking lot and a paved fire loop road around the center. School officials said the additional parking will be an added benefit for Washington West Elementary during evening concerts and programs.
The project is being paid for through a $9 million bond issue approved by voters this past April.
Lawlor Corporation is the general contractor for the $4.1 million project.