By Rebecca Rivas | Posted: Thursday, March 27, 2014 8:30 am
Contractors are putting the final touches on the new Flance Early Learning Center, located in the Murphy Park neighborhood.
The building’s classrooms beam with natural light and bright colors. In fact, most rooms have one wall completely constructed of windows. The hallways and ceilings feature curved and rounded architecture, designed to create a calming environment.
Overall, it’s a teacher’s dream building, said Beth Ketcher, executive director of the center. That’s because teachers were the ones who designed it.
“We wanted the very best for our children and teachers,” Ketcher said.
Urban Strategies and McCormack Baron Salazar broke ground on the $11 million, 23,000-square-foot early childhood education center last spring. Located at 1908 O’Fallon St., the center is set to open on May 1, serving children from infancy to 5 years.
The general contractors on the project are Brinkmann Constructors and the minority-owned firm Simms Building Group. Out of the $5.2 million construction budget, 79 percent – or $4 million – of the contracts were awarded to a minority business enterprises (MBEs), including the Simms Building Group.
About 57 percent or $2.9 million of the contracts were awarded to Section 3 firms, or companies with owners or workforce largely comprised of low/moderate income individuals and/or public housing residents. About 8 percent went to women-owned businesses.
On the workforce side, 46.4 percent of the workers on the project were minorities.
The center is located in an area where more than 51percent of the households are low or moderate income. Hence, leaders have committed that 100 of the 154 children enrolled will be from low-income families, particularly those living in public and HUD-assisted housing or subsidized rental housing.
The median household income in the 63106 zip code was $10,491 according to the 2010 census. The first five years represent the pivotal juncture of how poverty shapes the development of young minds, said Sandra Moore, president of Urban Strategies.
“Using this facility to lay a foundation at the early stage, we can apply effective early childhood education that can change the trajectory,” she said. “That has to be what this is all about.”
A 2010 Urban Institute study indicates that without proper intervention, children who are born poor are more likely than others to drop out of high school, have a teen non-marital birth, have patchier employment records and be poor between the ages of 25 and 30.
According to research, the lack of school readiness is most apparent in children from families with socio-economic risk factors such as unemployment, adult illiteracy and enrollment in TANF, Medicare and WIC. The center intends to directly address this trend, Moore said.
The University City Children’s Center will operate the center, which is named after I. Jerome Flance, a physician and community supporter, and his wife Rosemary.
Moore said she tapped the University City Children’s Center, a United Way-funded agency, to operate the center because of its nationally acclaimed education and training programs. The center will also serve as a training hub for childcare providers to learn best practices, through a partnership with the LUME Institute.
The Flance Center includes a three-room health suite that connects to Grace Hill, which will provide onsite immunizations and quick health screenings. The center also features a living room area, where families can have group meetings and various community events, as well as a community and industrial kitchen.