Early Childhood Learning Center

Carter Hanson, 5, participates in ‘work time’ with preschool teacher Melissa Hyde at the Early Childhood Learning Center at Casper College on Friday. The program moved into its new building recently, after its old facility was demolished and replaced with new dorms at the college.

DAN CEPEDA | Star-Tribune

The Early Childhood Learning Center, a presence at Casper College for years, is back on campus in its first standalone building after more than a year at a temporary location.

The center provides infant, toddler and preschool programs for students and employees of Casper College and the University of Wyoming/Casper College Center. Student-parents have said they would have to work more or drop out of school if the on-campus service went away.

The center also serves as a lab school for Casper College and UW/CC students.

In the center’s old location in McIntire Hall, residence hall rooms had been converted into classrooms. The bathroom designated for teachers and adults was in one of the classrooms.

The center had a place but not a home.

McIntire was torn down and a new building was promised, slated to open fall 2010. But construction bids were over the $1 million maximum price, so college trustees increased the price to $1.4 million in July 2010.

The program moved to First Presbyterian Church in fall 2010 for the duration of construction. Classes were split among three levels, and they had to cross the street to the playground — not ideal conditions for small children.

The center had a place but not a home.

Architect Stateline No. 7 of Casper was hired to design the building, and Haass Construction of Casper began work in March 2011. The new building will cost about $1.6 million when all the bills are paid, according to college officials. About 85 percent of the money was contributed by private donors and the college funded the rest.

Staff members and students moved into the center’s new, permanent building south of the new residence hall on Tuesday.

The center finally had a home.

The change has been nice, said center director Donna Sonesen, because the new building was actually built to educate small children, unlike the two previous locations.

The new center features big classrooms with windows facing into the center and outside. Each room has a door to a separate,

age-appropriate playground. Bathrooms have kid-sized sinks and kid-sized toilets. Each classroom has a large storage area — a big change from storing things in the basement of McIntire Hall.

The new center is much larger than the old setup in the residence hall but still holds about the same number of students. The center sticks to standards and class sizes set by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and can enroll about 50 children at a time.

The building was positioned so more space can be added in the future if the program expands. Sonesen said growth would be costly.

“If you have quality teachers and stay to ratios, it’s really hard to make ends meet,” Sonesen said.

For now, the center is settling into its new space, its new home.

Reach education reporter Jackie Borchardt at 307-266-0593 or at jackie.borchardt@trib.com. Read her education blog at trib.com/reportcard and follow her on Twitter @JMBorchardt

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