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New state-of-the art Early Childhood Education center breaks ground on Marygrove campus


P-20 partners, construction and design team join students and parents from Starfish Family Services to break ground on a $15 million early childhood center on the Marygrove College campus. (Photo by Darrel Ellis for The Kresge Foundation) 

Editor’s Note: Architectural renderings of the Early Childhood Education center and photos from the groundbreaking ceremony are available for download here.

DETROIT, MICH. – Representatives from the Marygrove Conservancy and its partners broke ground on a new $15 million Early Childhood Education center today on the campus of Marygrove College in northwest Detroit. The groundbreaking represents a milestone in the development of a cradle-to-career educational campus here, which was first announced in September 2018.

The leading-practice center is a key component of the linked educational opportunities evolving on the campus which will serve more than 1,000 children and young people at full capacity. A class of ninth grade students began classes here in September at the School at Marygrove, a new school operated by Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD). The 28,000 square-foot early childhood center is slated to open in fall 2021 and will be operated by Inkster, Michigan-based Starfish Family Services.

“Every young person in the city of Detroit deserves a high quality education and that starts with providing access to early childhood education programs,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “This new educational model at Marygrove has tremendous potential and is going to be watched very closely.  I appreciate what all the partners have done to create this new opportunity for the youngest students in our city.”

Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson and Wendy Lewis Jackson, Managing Director of the Detroit Program
Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson and Wendy Lewis Jackson, Managing Director of the Detroit Program, celebrate the groundbreaking of the new childhood center at Marygrove College. 

“The groundbreaking we celebrate today sends an unequivocal message that Detroit’s future will rise or fall on our ability to provide pathways to success for all the city’s children,” said Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson. “Kresge’s investment in the Marygrove P-20 campus is predicated on the need for a full spectrum of high-quality educational opportunities in the city’s neighborhoods. Addressing that need starts with ensuring quality offerings for young children as we are demonstrating today.”

The groundbreaking ceremony kicked off the Hope Starts Here 2019 Summit, a gathering of hundreds of parents and early childhood education advocates and practitioners who support the Hope Starts Here framework for a coordinated, high-quality early childhood education system in Detroit.

Co-chaired by Rapson and W.K. Kellogg Foundation President La June Tabron Montgomery, respectively, Hope Starts Here also marked a milestone with the announcement of Denise Smith, a veteran early childhood educator-administrator-activist, as the organization’s first implementation director.

More than 18,000 Detroiters were involved in some way in the creation of Hope Starts Here’s six-imperative framework, which Smith will oversee. Citing the parents, childcare center operators, early childhood teachers and concerned Detroiters from all walks of life who have been involved in the process, Smith explained her goal is “to galvanize these leaders to move forward cooperatively.”

The linked scheduling of the two events was intended to signal the aligned visions of Hope Starts Here and the P-20 partners.

A new benchmark for early childhood education 

The new early childhood education center is expected to open in fall 2021 and serve approximately 144 children from birth to age 5. It will support families of all income levels, with a focus on those residing in the surrounding Livernois-McNicholsneighborhoods.

Early childhood provider Starfish Family Services will operate the center and provide early childhood education and support services for families with infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Starfish has more than 55 years of leadership in early childhood development and extensive experience working with Detroit children and families.

Young children from Starfish Family Services grabbed shovels and took part in the groundbreaking for the early childhood center. 
Young children from Starfish Family Services grabbed shovels and took part in the groundbreaking for the early childhood center.

“Today’s groundbreaking may be ceremonial, but it’s also a tangible milestone for what’s to come for the children of Detroit:putting children first. The new Early Childhood Education center at Marygrove will serve precious babies, toddlers, and preschoolers along with their families,” said Starfish CEO Ann Kalass. “Starfish is dedicated to providing high quality educational and developmental opportunities for the youngest children – unleashing their endless potential. Equally important is offering holistic programming that connects their families to the support they need to flourish. Our approach is about the whole child and the whole family.”

Starfish and the University of Michigan School of Education are co-developing the center’s curriculum and child-centered services. This is a collaborative effort to develop year-round, cutting-edge curriculum for children from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds in an urban setting.

Starfish will also provide holistic support for children and families through behavioral and developmental health services, informed trauma care, parenting classes, prenatal support and more.

Community-informed designs and services 

The architect of record, Marlon Blackwell Architects, first revealed renderings of the leading-practice Early Childhood Education center during a community picnic held on the Marygrove campus in July. The designs were inspired by the physical and cultural legacy of Marygrove College and intended to honor the existing campus while celebrating the center as a place of new beginnings. Founded in 1899, Marygrove moved to its Detroit location in 1927 and is recognized for its longtime social justice leadership.

“The center provides a vision for the local community and an outstanding model for early childhood education, nurturing the fundamental development of children and life-long learning. This building, we believe, will make a significant contribution to Detroit’s atmosphere of hope and rebirth,” said Marlon Blackwell, a principal of his namesake firm.

The 28,000 square foot, one-story center incorporates a welcoming, open floor plan with 12 spacious classrooms and dedicated developmental spaces. The design is centered oninterior courtyards that will bring in natural lighting and connectto the tree-filled campus. A 30,000 square foot playscape will also be built, providing the space for children to explore the outdoors.

Starting in the predevelopment phase, IFF, the center’s developer, with the support of Starfish and the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, consulted with parents, caregivers and existing early childhood education providers in the vicinity.

Feedback from the community helped inform interior and exterior center design and will ensure that services and programming meet the area’s needs, including those of other early childhood education providers in the area. The center is envisioned as a convening space for all local providers to learn from and support one another.

IFF has experience with developing early childhood education facilities across the Midwest and has consulted on more than 170 facilities, supporting the creation of more than 5,000 early education slots in high-quality facilities. Additionally, IFF has provided more than $60 million in direct financing to early education facilities in the region.

“IFF is not a typical real estate developer. We are a mission-driven advocate for equitable access to high-quality early childhood education in all communities,” said IFF CEO Joe Neri. “The area surrounding the Marygrove campus is served by many high quality providers, but our research shows that the demand for those spots simply far exceeds the supply. This center will go a long way toward addressing that gap while also serving as a hub for providers throughout the city to convene, share knowledge, and access resources.”

Incorporating the community through workforce development 

The Marygrove Conservancy and partners are committed to prioritizing Detroiters and Detroit-based businesses to benefit from the cradle-to-career campus.

Metro-Detroit based Barton Malow will serve as the construction manager for the Early Childhood Education Center. The firm has established its own process for maximizing opportunities for local business and resident workforce and seeks contractors and suppliers through national, regional and local diverse-owned business associations.

Barton Malow announced a commitment of 20 percent of its construction spending on the Marygrove campus with minority-, veteran- and women-owned (MVWBE) businesses. In addition, Barton Malow will employ residents, including those in the surrounding Fitzgerald and Bagley neighborhoods, through the Barton Malow Boot Camp. This is a paid work training program for youth age 18-24, in partnership with the city’s Grow Detroit Young Talent program.

“We are truly excited to be a part of an initiative that leads the way in demonstrating how public-private collaboration can solve some of the city’s most prevalent challenges,” said Dannis Mitchell, Barton Malow Diversity Manager. “We look forward to working with local businesses and residents of the Fitzgerald neighborhood to provide viable opportunities for economic growth and career development in the skilled trades.”

P-20 cradle-to-career campus momentum continues 

Since the September 2018 launch, the Marygrove Conservancy and its partners have made steady progress to bring the P-20 educational vision to life on the campus. With the opening of the School at Marygrove this fall and the developing Early Childhood Education center, the Marygrove campus continues to be an anchor for education in Detroit.

“Through each milestone, we are integrating education and community development and creating an ecosystem that best serves Detroit students and families,” said Sister Jane Herb, president of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM) and chairwoman of the Marygrove Conservancy.

The conservancy is the nonprofit created to manage campus operations and steward the 53-acre Marygrove College campus in northwest Detroit as a resource for high-quality uses in the community. It was created to address the closure of Marygrove’s undergraduate operations in 2017; the college’s graduate school will also cease next month, just as ninth graders of the School at Marygrove celebrate completing their first semester of high school.