ECH Bids

Bids solicited for new Early Childhood Center
Posted on 08/14/2018

The Poplar Bluff School District’s first preschool age-specific Early Childhood Center is set to go out to bid, allowing time for final consideration by the Board of Education in September.

Designers have spent several months incorporating the professional input of teaching staff. The plan would be to open the new campus building for the 2019/20 school year, according to education officials. 

“It would be one of the premier preschool facilities in Southeast Missouri, if not the state,” said JoAnne Westbrook, ECH principal. “This is the entry point into the district; the point where you make a great first impression. This facility would obviously provide that.” 

School administration is recommending that the project, if approved, is paid outright from the district’s capital project balances saving the taxpayers an estimated $3.2 million in interest payments, based on turnkey cost projections from architects. 

“My personal recommendation is to not obligate a future board to payments for the next 20 years,” said Assistant Superintendent of Business Rod Priest during a budget workshop in June. Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill prefaced the sentiment during an earlier board meeting, stating that “cash on the barrel” would be the preferred financing method over lease purchasing.

The 34,000-square-foot facility would include separate 3 and 4-year-old wings, two extended day classrooms, an intensive needs and sensory room, a suite for the Parents as Teachers program, a large multipurpose room built close to FEMA standards, a centrally-located library and administrative office area, a nurse station, restroom facilities in classrooms, an abundance of storage space and a state-of-the-art interior design with a township theme.

An enclosed outdoor playground would be included on the campus. The site, connected to the Kindergarten Center off Kanell Boulevard, would feature 175 additional parking spaces, with separate entry and exit points for traffic flow. 

“Our ultimate goal is for every child to get some early childhood education before entering kindergarten,” Priest explained. “Kindergarten years ago was optional, and we got to a point where we need to reach [students] earlier.” 

The original Early Childhood Center was relocated from Wheatley School on Garfield Street to the former Kinyon Elementary building on Vine in 2001, according to longtime educators. The center is presently located at the Mark Twain campus. If that building is vacated, the final piece of the puzzle would be to repurpose the North Main Street facility as an alternative school.

“In terms of importance, it can’t be overstated: Early Childhood is that foundational bedrock upon which the entire school system is built, and we know that students who have those formative learning experiences go on to have better academic careers,” Dill said. “It sets our students up for success not only in school, but in life.” 

The district’s remaining needs were identified as the second and final phase of the strategic plan, which was approved through a levy measure passed by voters in 2014. The completion of the initial phase added over 200,000 square feet of modernized classroom space across the district, improving the learning environment for students, grades 1-12.

The Long-Range Planning Committee has been revisiting plans since December 2016, including taking a walking tour of R-I facilities. Members went over existing options last year and recommended the western portion of the 2010 Kindergarten Center campus instead of district-owned acreage behind O’Neal Elementary because of the ease of transition for children and consolidation of common spaces. 

The school board authorized Dille and Traxel Architecture to complete the construction designs in March. During the previous board meeting, Westbrook provided a program update, reporting that over 300 students attended Early Childhood during the 2017/18 school year, the most in district history. 

“We’re a growing community and if we want to keep growing, we have to be an innovative community,” Westbrook noted. “We’ve already made several wise investments – you put it on the front end, and the community would reap the benefits forever.”

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Cutline: Teacher representatives from the Early Childhood Center and district administrators meet with architects from Dille and Traxel in January to discuss programming at the proposed campus.

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