Kidco's New Lebanon Preschool Takes Shape

LEBANON — The giant crane hauling modular units into place to create a new preschool for Kidco Head Start made passersby stop and stare Wednesday afternoon.

Even more important, however, is what the passing drivers can't see yet, Executive Director Stephany Koehne said: a facility set up just for Head Start children and families.

"I keep saying, the ultimate end result is kids are going to receive a quality learning environment, and that's what it's all about," Koehne said.

It's not that Head Start's current locations aren't up to snuff, she said, and the mid-valley's branch of the federally-funded program has been very grateful for the use of those buildings.

But the new preschool's 11 modular units, being installed this week on a 3.4-acre parcel on South Main Road between Vaughn Lane and Joy Street, are designed just for Head Start. 

That means sinks and toilets at 3-year-old height, Koehne said. Offices with one-way glass in the windows so parents and staff can observe classrooms without affecting lessons. An in-house commercial kitchen, so the organization will no longer have to rent space elsewhere.

And — one of Koehne's personal favorites — it means a "nature-based" playground, complete with a grassy mound about 3 feet high specifically meant for children to roll down.

"We actually have a lot of people say, 'Why did you grass that hill? You made a mistake,'" she said, laughing. 

Right now, the nonprofit early learning program holds classes at 31575 Sand Ridge Road. It's been a good spot, but a bit out of the way for Lebanon-area families, Koehne said.

That building also has just two classrooms, the use of which is split between half-day morning and afternoon programs. The new preschool will have enough room to offer extended-day programs.

The preschool's total cost is about $2.7 million. The federal office of Head Start provided grants of $1.6 million, and the rest came from a private lending bank, Koehne said. 

It took longer than expected to get the grants, which is why the project is being completed now instead of last summer, she said. 

Jesse Grant with gLAs Architects is overseeing the architectural portion of the project. After the modular units and their roofs are installed this week, he said, comes roughly four to six weeks of other types of installation, such as mechanical systems, kitchen fixtures and cabinets.

Koehne said she hopes to start classes in early April, after spring break. The center will serve the children and families who currently travel to the Sand Ridge Road location. 

It also will serve the community at large, she added, because the facility's conference rooms will be available for public access.

Head Start began in the mid-valley 52 years ago through the Sweet Home School District and was one of the nation's first 50 original grantees. It is a federally-funded program meant specifically for preschoolers from low-income families and includes an academic program, free medical and dental care, meals and parent education.

In 1977, Head Start underwent a major expansion, and "Kids & Company" — Kidco for short — formed as a nonprofit and began to create more centers in the mid-valley. Thirteen centers in all now can be found in Albany, Brownsville, Crawfordsville, Corvallis, Harrisburg, Jefferson, Lebanon, Monroe, and Philomath in addition to Sweet Home. The newest, opened last year, is at Adams Elementary School in Corvallis.

Head Start's regular program serves children ages 3 to 5. Kidco currently serves 489 children and families, 52 of which are in the Early Head Start program for pregnant mothers and children birth to age 3.

The program does maintain a full classroom load, but spots do become available, Koehne said. Income level is a primary guide but other factors are considered.

Applications must be made in person. Interested families are asked to call the main office at 541-451-1581 for more information.

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