When Dianne Ensminger returns to 345 Fla. she gets a bit emotional, realizing that a dream 10 years in the making was washed away.
“Everything we worked for is pretty much gone,” said Ensminger, CEO of Ballard Community Services Inc., during a visit to the facility on Tuesday morning.
She stood in front of the building and recalled standing in knee-deep water on a cold January night during a massive flood at the building. She went inside and recalled minute details of the private nonprofit organization’s plans to renovate the building and turn it into an early childhood education center.
“It’s even hard to walk back through here again,” Ensminger said. “We had so much hope.”
A fire suppression system pipe cracked and blew out, sending water pouring out of the building and through the walls. The flood has left behind large amounts of mold, has ruined part of the electrical system in the building, has destroyed its boiler and heating system and has washed away part of the foundation, which is causing the floor to sink.
“To have all of that completely destroyed in a matter of minutes by a water system that we had no idea was even damaged was really, really devastating,” Ensminger said. “There’s so much structural damage that we can’t figure out a way to save the facility.”
BCS, a private nonprofit organization, purchased the building last May. The agency provides affordable early education and basic life assistance for needy families, and also reaches out to the homeless, poor and elderly.
Ensminger and other BCS officials had just about every detail lined out to turn the building into an affordable learning space for 88 infants, toddlers and preschoolers whose families are in need. It was scheduled to open by the end of the year.
Now the building at Fourth and Florida streets sits empty.
“This is a dream come true that actually went away really quickly,” Ensminger said.
Though it’s difficult, she’s trying to move past the drama of the flood and is working to turn devastation into triumph. The agency plans to tear the facility down and build a new “all green” facility in its place, housing the education center and other nonprofit organizations in the community.
BCS, which has been operating for 44 years, is working to expand its early education program to bridge the gap between the number of families needing early education slots and the 72 children in the community who actually get them. The facility will join the agency’s three other early education sites throughout Lawrence.
But the project, which will be named Anna Cerf Early Education Center for Children and Families, will come with a hefty price tag. Instead of the $680,000 in renovation costs the business anticipated, building the new facility is expected to cost more than $1 million, said Ensminger, who has been CEO of the business for a decade.
“We know up front the costs are going to be more expensive, but we know in the long run that it’s going to be less expensive to operate the facility,” she said.
As the organization moves forward, Ensminger said she’s waiting to hear back from insurance adjusters and working to tap every resource she can for financial help. With the community’s help, Ensminger said she’s hopeful the agency will stand on higher ground and realize its dream of reaching out to even more people in need.
“We want this to happen,” she said.