ECH Ribbon Cutting

Ribbon cutting held for state-of-the-art Early Childhood Center
Posted on 08/23/2020
Ribbon cutting ceremony

Poplar Bluff Early Childhood Center students will have the privilege of starting the school year in one of the finest preschool facilities in Missouri, local educators believe.

A well-attended ribbon cutting ceremony was held on Wednesday, Aug. 12, for the first preschool age-level specific building in the history of R-I. Completed slightly under budget in the spring, the state-of-the-art Poplar Bluff Early Childhood Center was paid outright from district reserves, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars in interest payments, school officials estimate.

“It’s a happy place,” teacher Nancy Gill stated. “Makes you want to be a little child again.”

With a tenure spanning more than 23 years, Gill started teaching preschool in the Wheatley School building now on the National Register of Historic Places, then at the former Kinyon Elementary and finally Mark Twain, before moving to the present Camp Road location. All of the previous buildings were retrofitted to accommodate the added program.

Gill can remember when her daughter Liz, who graduated with the PBHS Class of 2020, began her educational career in the school system, and had to learn to navigate three stories of stairs at Kinyon. ‘Alternating feet on steps’ was then a goal on the ECH checklist - not because the gross motor skill was age-appropriate, but rather for safety purposes, noted Gill.

“Now all the details of the design and decisions were made with the idea of how this would function for 3 and 4 year olds,” said JoAnne Westbrook, ECH principal. For example, she pointed out, young students no longer have to try to traverse multiple heavy doors like at the previous open campus on North Main Street. “It can’t help but lift your spirits,” Westbrook continued.

Made in Missouri, the new school was designed by Dille and Traxel Architecture of Poplar Bluff, with interior décor created by VVELL Studio of Maplewood. Contract work was led by Brockmiller Construction of Farmington, and the playground equipment was erected by All Inclusive Rec also of Farmington, with surfacing completed with 100 percent recycled Missouri tires thanks to a grant acquired through the state Department of Natural Resources.

The 34,000-square-foot facility features seven classrooms with individual restrooms for 4-year-olds, five for 3-year-olds, two mixed-age classrooms for extended care, two speech rooms, one class for intensive needs, one sensory room and a suite to house the Parents As Teachers program. There is an administrative office area which includes rooms for conferences and testing, a spacious nursing station, two large storage areas, a flagship library with several reading nooks, and a multipurpose gym for physical education with storm shelter capabilities.

Esthetically the structure features a cupola skylight in the lobby and green turf-like carpeting with poplar leaves to introduce the township theme that includes skyline cork boards above the cubby spaces in the hallways. Each classroom pod is color coated for ease of navigation, and the floors incorporate patterns of shapes as visual cues.

As originally envisioned by education leaders a decade ago to eliminate a grade-level transition, the building is connected to the Kindergarten Center, with separated entry and exit points for traffic control, in addition to staggered start and end times established. A total of 175 parking spots have been added to the campus. The outdoor playground is enclosed, and completely ADA-compliant.

Coupled with the alternative school grand opening on the subsequently vacated Mark Twain site, the new ECH completes the buildings plan, which was funded by a single levy measure passed by voters in 2014, effectively adding over 245,000-square-feet of academic space across the district, impacting every student, grades pre-K to 12.

“The data shows that students who participate in preschool instruction have an advantage over those who do not, in that they are gonna enjoy school and be more likely to become lifelong learners,” Westbrook said. “I doubt you’re gonna find a facility much nicer anywhere in the state, to be honest, and that says a lot about the value we place here on early childhood education.”


Cutline: Poplar Bluff Superintendent Dr. Scott Dill says that the Early Childhood Center has finally gotten its “forever home” within the district on Wednesday, Aug. 12, during the ribbon cutting ceremony.

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