Long-awaited Jefferson Early Childhood Center to emphasize exploration, accessibility, and community connections
[Wheaton, IL] – On January 15, 2019, a sea of over 250 smiling faces packed the gym of the 60-year-old Jefferson Early Childhood Center in Wheaton, Illinois. Community Unit School District 200 Superintendent Dr. Jeff Schuler stepped up to the microphone and said, “I think this is probably a sign that we need a bigger space.” The audience responded with a resounding round of applause.
The students, teachers, board members, and community members had assembled to celebrate start of construction on a new Jefferson Early Childhood Center that will kick off a lifelong learning adventure for District 200’s youngest students.
The event included a student-led Pledge of Allegiance, speakers, and a presentation of shovels from students to Schuler and District 200 board members. Afterward, the group headed outside, where a well drill set the backdrop for a ceremonial groundbreaking.
The old school will be demolished to make way for the replacement school. The 42,000-square-foot facility, designed by Legat Architects and to be built by Nicholas & Associates, includes 14 900-square-foot classrooms with integrated therapy spaces so students can receive specialized services and still connected the classroom. Each pair of classrooms has a child-size accessible restroom. The entire school surrounds a sensory courtyard with equipment that Jefferson’s occupational and physical therapists helped select. The new Jefferson also includes an ADA accessible playground that District 200 will open to the community.
“It has taken a great deal of effort and commitment to every single detail in the design plan for our early learning center,” said Stephanie Farrelly, Jefferson Early Childhood Center principal. “It truly has been a testament to the collective vision of this community, and the result will be a facility where all our children will be able to explore, learn, grow their confidence, and discover those unique abilities they have that will make them successful both now and in the future.”
Legat’s Paul Pessetti, project manager and designer of the new center, remembers working with the district to write the first replacement school program back in 2003. The district took the project to the ballot for the first time in 2013. Since then, the project has undergone several setbacks, ranging from funding stalls to unsuccessful referenda, each of them resulting in tweaking the design.
Legat President and CEO Patrick Brosnan said, “The story of the new Jefferson Early Childhood Center is one of perseverance and teamwork. Through all the ups and downs, District 200 remained committed to this new school and to the education of its students.”
Construction of the school, designed for up to 320 students, is expected to finish before the 2020 – 2021 school year.
More Light, More Views, More Successes
Jefferson Early Childhood Center is designed to inspire curiosity and support future success for early learners, including the 2/3 of its students who have special needs or disabilities. It replaces a 60-year-old school that was undersized and designed for older students.
Schuler said, “The design features are intentionally developed to make sure that we serve the social-emotional, cognitive, and language development needs of our earliest learners.”
The district’s early learning program and teacher input inspired the design. Light-filled corridors and classrooms display the sensory courtyard at the heart of the school. The efficient design reduces construction costs and an energy-efficient geothermal system lowers heating and cooling costs. Unlike the old school, the new Jefferson ECC is ADA accessible and offers dedicated indoor and outdoor therapy spaces, as well as a resource room for parent training.
At the groundbreaking event, District 200 Board President Brad Paulsen noted that the ceremony not only took place on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr.’s 90th birthday, but it was also three days before the federal holiday dedicated to the civil rights activist. He quoted King: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Then Paulsen said, “We’ve had a long, difficult journey, but we are here.”
Contact us to learn more about early learning center design or comment below to share your thoughts on this post. Learn more about early learning center design essentials from Robin Randall, Legat’s preK-12 education leader.