Sparta Area Schools is poised to renovate its current middle school into an Early Childhood Education Center.
With early childhood programming now crowded into the White Early Education Center and spilling over into Ridgeview Elementary, the move would eliminate overcrowding and the need for shuffling students from building to building as well as make room for expanded services.
Construction of a new middle school started last fall and is the last major construction piece expected from the bond passed In 2016.
Funding for the ECEC renovation would come from that $58.6 million bond. With savings in several areas, and in particular, the middle school bids coming in more than $2 million under budget, the district anticipates having approximately $2.7 million to put toward this project.
“It is with great excitement that we can present these plans to the board and the public at this time,” said Superintendent Pete Bush. “And we are fairly confident that where we are right now – financially – we will be able to do this.”
Specifically, plans call for:
- a new main entrance, with enhanced security improvements and office space
- construction of larger classrooms for Great Start Readiness Preschool (GSRP) by combining two current ones and adding an interior restroom for each
- redesigned pre-kindergarten rooms
- dedicated space for large and small motor play areas
- creating an indoor playground
The Board of Education recently took a close look at initial design plans, which, according to Executive Director of Student & Academic Services Joel Stoner, “would not only better the educational opportunities in what we are already doing by providing more adequate space, but also provide the possibility of program expansion.”
Currently, Sparta offers the Bright Beginnings Program through Kent ISD providing family support and parent education for children from birth to 5. The program shares space with the child care program, “because we just don’t have the space,” said Amy Waldron, director of the White EEC. “Funding for that program is based on number of participants and we would love to expand what we can offer.”
The district also serves as home to GSRP, which is managed and staffed by Kent ISD. The state-funded free preschool now offers six sections of either half-day or full-day options in Sparta. Three classrooms are currently housed in the White Early Education Center and three at the Ridgeview Elementary facility.
The Sparta program has 144 slots available but “always has waiting lists,” according to Stoner. “People can choose from full or half day; typically the full days fill first. Often the at-risk kids need a full day to be ready for kindergarten.
“Our biggest concern is space,” he said. “It is an example of ‘If you build it they will come,” Waldron said. “We could do more if we had more space.”
Tina Mortensen, district director of Special Education, is particularly excited about enhancing the Early Childhood Special Education services, now also sharing space. “This is important that we meet every child’s needs. I would love to give more kiddos these opportunities,” including more play groups, she said.
Will expanding early childhood services boost enrollment? Sparta officials expect the answer to be “yes.”
Referring to the possible renovation, Waldron said, “It is stuff like this that draws families to the area. And where they start, they stay.”
In addition, Sparta offers year round child care and tuition-based preschool for three-year-olds. Potentially, the district would also be able to expand its child care options, or offer more preschool.
Classes in the new middle school are expected to begin in the fall of 2020. Any renovation to the old facility could begin then if approved by the board.