At the intersection of North University Avenue and West Willow Street are about 10.5 acres of fields, vacant but for a few bales of hay. But in August 2023, the property is set to house a brand new public pre-K center and up to 480 early learners.

The Lafayette Parish School Board went ahead with purchasing the property in December 2021 with $2.3 million from the school system building fund.

A few months prior, the board had already approved the use of $26.5 million from the federal Elementary and Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund to replace the pre-K center, which is over 60.

The original plan was to rebuild the center where it is now, in the middle of a Clara Street neighborhood north of Lafayette. But the new property allows more visibility for the center as well as more space to grow, which the designers kept in mind when preparing the building plans.

The new facility, which is expected to be ready for students in the fall of 2023, will be built for 480 children across four “learning communities,” or wings. There are plans for – and room for – a fifth, which would cap registrations at 600.

About 300 pupils, aged 3 and 4, are enrolled in the preschool education centre.

Each wing should include classrooms as well as breakout rooms that can be used for intervention or sensory rooms, for example. There will also be small dining halls in each rather than a large cafeteria, limiting foot traffic between campuses for pre-K students.

The distribution of the dining room is unique, said David Hebert, principal architect of the firm Grace Hebert Curtis.

“We’ve even downsized the dining hall to make it more family-style, and lunches are brought to the kids so you have less transition time with the kids having to move around campus,” Hebert said in a presentation. to the school board.

“As this project is one of the only new early learning centers in the state from the ground up, we knew it was an opportunity not only for the school system, but also for the state and the nation, to to do something that really rethinks education and meets the needs of our children and our teachers,” Hebert said.

The Lafayette Parish School Board is taking steps to replace the site of the Truman Early Childhood Education Center with plans to appraise and purchase property for a new preschool building.  Wednesday October 6, 2021.

To accomplish this, his team is working with DLR Group, a national design firm well known in the K-12 space and with experience with similar installations across the country.

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The team also looked within as they projected a vision for the new Truman Center. Hebert worked with a “visioning team” that included school board members, district and school leaders, teachers, SROs, custodians and more.

They developed guiding principles on what should be inherent in the design of the school – social and emotional support (for educator and learner), flexible and adaptable (space and furniture), life-based teaching and learning. inquiry, interactive and flexible technology, and ensuring learner autonomy (for children as explorers).

“We wanted to make sure we were building this building not just to meet today’s technology needs, but to grow in the future,” he said. “And we wanted spaces for the kids to experiment, experience things, move around, be comfortable but also create a really safe environment.”

The proposed floor plan is in a “sunburst” pattern, with the four (possibly five) different learning communities wrapped around a central outdoor green space to encourage play and exploration, he explained. .

Hebert likened the central play space to an indoor courtyard or an outdoor exploration space in a children’s museum. There will be different play equipment as well as a tricycle track, depending on the designs.

“Every time kids move from lunchroom or physical education to their primary classrooms, they can experience that component of outdoor play, which is really important for their development,” he said. declared.

The multi-purpose space and the dining area are located further towards the front of the campus. Administrative offices are distributed along the south side with the aim of providing support to educators in each of the wings.

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Each learning community will accommodate up to 120 children, with the aim of making them feel like they are at home or with family.

“They can develop relationships in that space and not necessarily be overwhelmed by the number of people on campus,” Hebert said.

Classrooms will mostly only have furniture that can be moved in and out rather than built-in items to provide more flexibility. Lockers and other storage will be located outside of the classroom, such as a foyer or the porch of a home called a “shared discovery space.”

This allows children to enter the classroom “hands-free” and have more teaching space in the classroom. An “experimental zone,” which Hebert likened to the mudroom of a house, will be positioned between every two classrooms so that both can access the space for art or experiments.

There will be three overlapping carpool lanes on the site, with overlapping buses on another part of the property.

Construction is expected to begin in July and be completed a year later in July 2023, just in time to welcome students to campus in August.

Contact Leigh Guidry, Children’s Issues Reporter, at [email protected] or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.