Teachers, staff members and administration and guests toured Grand Island Public Schools’ new O’Connor Early Learning Center on Friday.
The new center, 2208 N. Webb Road, is under construction and is expected to be ready for the 2021-22 school year.
The project is expected to cost just more than $9.6 million.
The site will serve as many as 300 GIPS students and boast 10 classrooms. This is an increase from the current center’s capacity of about 250 students with eight rooms.
Grand Island businessman Ray O’Connor donated the roughly 50,000 square feet of space from the former Shopko site for the new learning center.
Dan Petsch, GIPS buildings and grounds director, led the tour Friday that showed spaces for the center’s entryway, meeting rooms, student gym and one of the classrooms.
A key feature is that each classroom will have its own bathroom, which Amy Richards, Early Learning Center coordinator, and her team cheered.
“It seems like a small thing, but what we found is we have staff members spending almost 25 minutes a day just waiting at the bathroom,” Richards said. “Now we have more learning time, more time for being independent. These classrooms are going to be built for our preschoolers so they can develop those independence skills.”
Hallways, common spaces and sensory rooms have been designed to support preschoolers, Richards said.
“Everything from two-tone flooring to sensory trails throughout the building are all built in to support their learning and their social and emotional development,” she said. “It’s just amazing to have that opportunity to do that throughout our entire space.”
A STEM room also is being developed for students to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.
“They’ll have exposure to science and art, and that creative and problem-solving process, from the very beginning,” Richards said.
The large retail parking lot will allow staff members to have daily contact with the center’s families, thereby helping the ELC to “grow our partnerships with our families,” Richards said.
Robin Dexter, GIPS associate superintendent, said the site will help expand learning opportunities in the district.
Dexter called the site “impressive.”
“I’m so glad to be here,” she said. “Our consultant kept saying, it’s got to have ‘wow!’ Walking in here and hearing the design process, this is going to have a lot of ‘wow’ as well.”
Dexter added, “We’re moving all of our kids forward.”
Bonnie Hinkle, GIPS Board of Education president, said it was worth the years of effort to make a new early learning center come to fruition.
“As board members, it took us much, much longer than we wanted to make this happen, and we could not have done it without our community partners,” Hinkle said. “It’s so cool that this is happening, and it’s the best investment we can make in childhood education.”
GIPS Superintendent Tawana Grover also thanked O’Connor, as well as the district’s school board and early childhood team.
“This is another step in the right direction,” Grover said. “It starts here. Early childhood education is so critical. This dream space is becoming a reality for our students.”
She added, “Thank you, everybody, for making that happen.”