By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska at Kearney’s new LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center will be a significant upgrade over the current Child Development Center.
There’s no question about that.
“It’s a dramatic shift facilities-wise,” said University of Nebraska architect Alan Wedige, who has his own unique way of describing the improvement.
“It will be like going from Kitty Hawk to the Starship Enterprise.”
Wedige calls the $7.8 million building under construction on UNK’s University Village development a progressive, forward-looking project that represents the future of early education.
“It will be a different type of operation that many people have probably never seen before,” he said.
The Early Childhood Education Center, which is scheduled to open in September, was designed specifically to meet children’s educational and developmental needs while providing top-notch training for future educators and promoting collaboration among UNK’s academic departments.
It replaces the Child Development Center, a dated space inside the 64-year-old Otto Olsen industrial arts building with no room to expand.
The modern facility coming together just south of the Village Flats housing complex won’t have those issues. At 19,900 square feet, the new center will have enough room to serve up to 176 children from infants to age 6, including those with special needs. By more than doubling the current capacity, the center will better serve UNK faculty, staff and students in need of child care while addressing a provider shortage in the area.
The Early Childhood Education Center will feature an outdoor playground area and 11 classrooms that create a structured learning environment for children.
Wedige said the building will be a fun space for children to play, explore and grow.
“You want an exciting environment for children, because that’s how they learn,” he said.
In addition to serving Kearney-area families, the center will train undergraduate and graduate students in a hands-on setting with increased opportunities for research, practicums, internships, observations, diagnostic testing and other experiential learning.
“We’ll be training teachers here who can go into other communities and introduce the same types of learning components for young children,” Wedige said.
The center will benefit students studying early childhood and elementary education, as well as those in programs such as communication disorders, physical or special education, family studies, psychology and social work through interdisciplinary collaborations among UNK’s three academic colleges and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
UNK also hopes to further address the shortage of early childhood educators by advancing and creating new partnerships at the community, state and national levels.
A financial gift from LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck of Omaha, a longtime advocate for early childhood education, added two dedicated Montessori classrooms to the Early Childhood Education Center named in her honor, as well as an endowed Montessori education professorship and endowed fund that will support workshops, seminars and other outreach activities for early childhood education providers across Nebraska.
The center, approved by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents in January 2017, will utilize three research-based philosophies for early childhood education, with two classrooms dedicated to Montessori, one devoted to project-based education and eight focused on eclectic learning.
The building, one of three projects replacing Otto Olsen, is funded by state appropriations through LB957 and the Plambeck gift. It’s the first academic building at University Village, a 104-acre development just south of U.S. Highway 30.
LAVONNE KOPECKY PLAMBECK EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION CENTER
Construction Start: Site preparation started in September 2018
Completion: Fall 2019
Location: South of Village Flats, in the University Village development (U.S. Highway 30 west of West Center)
Size: 19,900 square feet
Cost: $7.8 million
Funding: State funds through LB957 and dedicated facility funds from the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck gift
Capacity: 176 children from infant to age 6
Other: The facility replaces the Child Development Center in the 64-year-old Otto Olsen building. In addition to training undergraduate and graduate students and integrating coursework from across all three of UNK’s academic colleges and the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the ECEC will serve Kearney-area children and families with developmentally appropriate early education.