New ECFC facility finally feels its heartbeat

Staff shows off $11 million new school at Saturday open house

Gazette photo by Erik Sandin
Five-year-old James Calmon, left, and his brother, Jack Calmon, 3, make a decorate paper plate turtles with help from their mother, Stephanie LeGros, Saturday during the family’s visit to the Independent School District 834 open house at the district’s new Early Childhood Family Center.

It took one year to build the Independent School District 834 Early Childhood Family Center adjacent to Stillwater Junior High School. But it took just one day for the new center to gain its heartbeat.

About two weeks ago, ECFC students and their families toured the new building just days before school started, said ISD 834 Community Education Director Lori Brink.

“The families have been really thrilled. It was like the building’s heart started beating. It was filled with families and children,” she said.

The community was invited to tour the $11 million ECFC during a two-hour open house Saturday. Opening the new ECFC site culminated a lengthy search by the ISD 834 School board and district officials for a replacement to the renovated space on 60th Street that served as the ECFC.

“We did a great work in our old building. But it was a commercial building that was retrofit,” Brink said.

ISD 834 officials considered buying and renovating several vacant buildings for a new ECFC facility. At one point, officials with ISD 834 and Lake Elmo talked about putting the school in a renovated space in that city’s downtown area. After those talks broke down, the board decided last year to construct a new facility on district-owned land next to Stillwater JHS. Construction began in mid-August 2011.

Although the ECFC met some neighborhood opposition, Brink said one project goal was designing a facility so it blended in with the area.

“I do think, for the most part, one of the most overwhelming comment is that from the outside, it doesn’t look as big as it is on the inside,” she said. “We really made some efforts to make it look less institutional.”

Brink also said the district and ECFC designers made the decision to construct an environmentally sensitive building with the goal of a earning a future LEED designation.

“We are pursuing that,” she said.

Among the steps Brink said designers took to minimize the ECFC building’s environmental impact were installing the most efficient mechanical systems, keeping that equipment in the building and installing energy efficient windows. She added the district will learn a year from now if the ECFC will earn LEED certification.

“We’re really hoping for a silver or gold (LEED) designation. The building has to operate for a year,” she said.

For students and staff from ISD 834, Courage Center and District 916 that use the ECFC, the new center offers larger classroom space, an area for early childhood auditory programs for deaf and hard-of-hearing students and larger gymnasium space for large muscle and physical therapy, according to Brink.

“That’s space we didn’t have at the previous facility,” Brink said.

But perhaps the biggest savings in constructing the new ECFC campus was the board’s decision putting the facility next to Stillwater Junior High, Brink said.

“Having the facility on a school campus, we created savings to the taxpayers on land we already owned and on a parking lot that was underutilized,” she said.

ECFC staff and students could not be happier with their new school.

“We have over a decade of planning to get here,” said Annette Sallman, ECFC building and community service manager. “They’re (students) thrilled.”