Thursday marks the first day of school for 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers in Carol Stream District 93, which includes portions of Carol Stream, Bloomingdale and Hanover Park.
But for the first time, preschoolers throughout the district will be attending classes at a centralized location -- and in a classroom environment their older peers never experienced.
The new $6.7 million Early Childhood Center at 280 Old Gary Ave., near Army Trail Road and Gary Avenue in Bloomingdale, is a combination of the former Dist. 93 headquarters building and a 14,000-square-foot addition. The ribbon cutting and open house for the recently completed facility was Tuesday night, and it provided a sneak peek for what 175 Dist. 93 preschool students will see on their first day.
The building features nine classrooms grouped into three "villages," with common meeting areas in the hallways meant to encourage collaboration among students and teachers. Touch-screen SMART Boards are in every classroom and in the hallways, and there are 45 iPads.
"It's no longer four walls and that's where you stay," said Michelle Scharinger, the district's preschool coordinator and early childhood school psychologist. "Your entire classroom is the building."
The facility also includes a multipurpose room where children will work on motor skill activities. A nearby sensory room will be used to provide a "calming environment" for students experiencing high tension, Scharinger said.
An outdoor garden and playground is also planned.
"It doesn't feel like a school building," Scharinger said. "We wanted children to feel like it's home.
As part of the original building, the basement was refurbished to serve as a common workspace area for teachers, faculty and staff lunchroom, as well as supply area.
A total of 35 employees will work at the new center, including eight teachers, three speech therapists, a social worker and a psychologist.
District preschool support staff will now all be under one roof, whereas before, they split time between preschool programs at Roy DeShane and Cloverdale elementary schools.
In addition, the opening of the Early Childhood Center frees up classroom space for those two elementary schools.
While the initial enrollment of the preschool is 175, the facility can accommodate about 220. Two-and-a-half hour preschool sessions will be held in the mornings and afternoons, 3 to 5 days a week.
The project, when proposed, was estimated to cost $5 million. Superintendent Bill Shields said the final cost will end up being close to $6.7 million, taking into account some changes requested by Bloomingdale village officials.
That includes construction of a second parking lot exit, which required the district to purchase land to the west of its property. The district was also asked to upgrade land on the east side of its property and demolish an old barn used as a storage facility.
The facility is funded in part by a $1.9 million grant from the Illinois School Construction program. District officials got word they would receive the grant in 2002, but it wasn't until 2010 that the funding actually came in.
A bulk of the project was paid for by refinancing bonds through the Build America Bonds program, which the district did before the program expired in December 2010. A total of $3.5 million in bonds are due to be paid off in 20 years.
The project was awarded a $93,000 DuPage County stormwater grant because of the center's permeable paver parking lot. District officials also hope to get a grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Commission for the building's environmental features.
The remainder of the costs will be paid through the use of reserve funds.
Officials will be pursuing LEED gold certification -- the second-highest level -- for the building's environmentally-friendly design, including the parking lot, use of recycled materials in construction, and a geothermal heating and cooling system.
The original building was built some 60 years ago as a kindergarten, then became the Dist. 93 administrative offices. Eventually, space constraints led to those offices moving to the current headquarters at 230 Covington Drive in Bloomingdale. The old building was used for district meetings, training sessions, and kindergarten and preschool screenings. It was later leased to private preschools, for adult programming such as yoga, and to the village of Carol Stream for storage space.
At one point, there was a proposal to sell the land.
Shields said the first proposal to put a preschool there surfaced in 2002, when there were five sections of preschool in the district. Today, there's 14.
"The preschool program took off," Shields said.