East Heights School -- closed amid public outcry in May -- will soon be reborn as the academic home of 160 preschoolers.
Under the working name of East Heights Early Childhood/Adult Education Center, the one-story brick building is being reshaped into the Lawrence school district's headquarters for preschool instruction.
"You won't find a classroom desk anywhere in the building. You'll just find small tables and chairs," Cris Anderson, coordinator of early-childhood education, said Tuesday during a tour of East Heights.
Youngsters from six preschool sites operated by the district will be consolidated at East Heights, 1430 Haskell Ave. But the central mission of the program won't change, Anderson said. The staff will cater to at-risk children who aren't enrolled in a preschool program elsewhere.
In that regard, she said, the objective is to make the East Heights facility the first option of people moving to the city.
"What we want to do is become a hub for families," Anderson said.
Before the new center opens 7:30 a.m. Aug. 20, staff will visit the parents or guardians of all enrolled children.
"We do that to start the partnership with that family," she said.
The facility has nearly reached its state-regulated maximum enrollment of 160 students, and most of those children live near Cordley, Kennedy, New York and Prairie Park elementary schools.
Anderson said building modifications to accommodate a school full of children under 5 years of age were nearly completed. Second exits were cut into each classroom and the fire-alarm system was upgraded.
There isn't enough time or money to complete all aspects of the plan, she said. For example, a grant will be written to secure money for more playground equipment. It would be too costly to lower bathroom sinks, she said.
Under the consolidated format, the center will house:
- Readiness program, which provides services to the 4-year-old at-risk children.
- Special-education preschool, which serves 3- and 4-year-old children and had been located at the Dole Center on the Kansas University campus.
- Even Start, an infant to pre-kindergarten program that supports parents enrolled in adult education courses.
- Parents as Teachers, an outreach program that serves families with children, birth to 3 years of age.
The school board voted to close East Heights, Centennial and Riverside schools in May. Dwindling elementary enrollment and budget problems led the board to reduce the number of elementary schools in the district to 15. Controversy about consolidation contributed to defeat of the district's proposed $59 million bond issue for school construction and renovation.