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New Stillwater Area School District ECFC is first 'green' building in district

The Stillwater Area School District's Early Childhood Family Center cost $11 million to construct and is located across from Stillwater Junior High School.1 / 2
The Early Childhood Family Center houses a sensory gymnasium, which is designed specifically for students with special needs.2 / 2

Just like the children that frequent it, the Stillwater Area School District's href=>Early Childhood Family Center quickly outgrew its walls and needed someplace else to go.

"Our programs outgrew their old location many years ago," said Lori Brink, director of community education and community relations. "The space didn't allow us to do everything we wanted to do."

Now the center, which houses District 834's Early Childhood and Family Education and Early Childhood Special Education programs, has a new home - right across the street from Stillwater Junior High School.

The new Early Childhood Family Center (ECFC) held a grand opening on Thursday, Aug. 30.

The programs were previously housed in a leased space.

In addition to being the district's first ECFC,the new ECFC is also the district's first "green" building.

"We really saw it as an opportunity on many fronts," Brink said. "The first one was that it's the right thing to do for the environment.

"Plus, making the investment up front saves the taxpayers money down the road on the ongoing operations of the building."

The building cost $11 million to construct.

The new ECFC was approved by District 834 School Board in the spring of 2011, however the program had been in the works for nearly 10 years, Brink said.

"It really has been a long time coming," she said.

In addition to housing the District 834 Early Childhood and Family Education and Early Childhood Special Education programs, for ages birth to 5 years old, the ECFC will also be home to two partners - Courage Center St. Croix and Northeast Metro Intermediate District 916 - which will lease space from the district and provide integrated programming.

Courage Center St. Croix will house all of its pediatric therapy programs out of the new center and District 916 will house its early childhood auditory/oral program, which will serve deaf and hard-of-hearing students from across the east metro area.

Brink said the ECFC will be used by more than 500 families per week.

"We feel the strength of the center is bringing all these programs together," she said. "We share a client base, so it's nice to say we're all located under one roof - that's certainly convenient for parents.

"I like to think of it as something that is greater than the sum of its parts when we're all together."

Some of the center's features include a children's gymnasium and a sensory gymnasium.

"We've never had a large motor space for kids to run and jump and play and frankly have the kind of space for physical therapies," Brink said.

A children's gymnasium is constructed with cushioned floor tiles color-coded to accommodate children's activities, games and achievements.

Additionally, the gymnasium floor includes a "trike track."

The sensory gymnasium, which is aimed toward children with special needs, provides activities in a more intimate, non-threatening environment and includes an enhanced cushioned floor, adjustable lighting, lower ceilings, a child-size rock-climbing wall, ceiling swings and padded movable partitions.

"The gym has equipment specially designed for children with special needs and have sensory issues," Brink said. "We think it's unique and pretty special."

Other building amenities, for use primarily by District 916 and Courage Center St. Croix, include auditory panels for better sound quality, a sound field system which can be tied in to children's hearing devices and a special kitchenette that will be utilized for feeding therapies.

Stillwater's 'green' building

The ECFC is certified as a LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, building which, makes it the district's only "green" building.

There are a lot of things that go into green construction and that environmental sustainability that isn't visible when you come into a building," Brink said.

Some of the "green" features include: low-flow plumbing fixtures, high-efficiency mechanical systems, solar-powered hot water heating and recycled construction materials

The building also maximizes natural light with large windows and all of the lighting is daylight sensitive, which means the lighting will turn on and off based on outside light conditions.

"The building knows that it doesn't need to use that energy," Brink said.

The windows in the building also don't open or close, which allows staff to better control humidity and temperature.

Another unique amenity to the center is a staff shower, which was installed to encourage staff to ride bikes to work.

"You can add an amenity to encourage people to drive their automobiles less frequently," Brink said.

In addition to being better for the environment and cost effective, Brink said District 834 is also hoping to use the building as a teaching tool for its junior high and high school students since the building will be hooked up to computers that monitor the energy use and track it with the weather.

"We want to provide educational opportunities beyond just little kids," Brink said.

Brink said she is excited about the new opportunities the ECFC will present.

"We really want to live our mission of being a resource for the entire community," she said. "It's really about supporting young children, and parents of young children, long before they reach kindergarten."

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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