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Consolidated early childhood center centralizes resources, creates community in School District 45

Wold has been a long-time partner of School District 45, located about 20 miles west of Chicago. The district serves over 3,400 students from early childhood through 8th grade in the Villa Park, Lombard and Oakbrook Terrace communities. In 2020, Wold worked with district and community members to overwhelmingly pass a $30 million bond referendum that helped establish full-day kindergarten, refresh classrooms, increase safety and security, significantly upgrade technology, improve STEM curriculum, update furniture district-wide and, most importantly, build a brand new Early Childhood Center (ECC).

Children enrolled in early childhood education programs typically have better vocabulary, math skills and pre-reading skills, all of which set the stage for a more successful kindergarten experience. While District 45 had strong early childhood programming, it lacked a central location for students and staff to share resources and build a community of early learners and educators.

To provide streamlined learning opportunities for young children, District 45 worked with Wold and Gilbane Building Company to consolidate all early childhood programming to the new center. Through COVID protocols and many Zoom calls, the team successfully completed the Early Childhood Center in time for the 2022-23 school year. The new center features 12 classrooms, sensory rooms, a large-space gross motor room, staff offices, a common gathering area and a conference room.

We sat down with District 45’s Dr. Anthony Palmisano, superintendent of schools, Judy Degnan, president of the Board of Education, Kelly Nettleton, principal at the Early Education Center, and Mike Pinney, chief information officer, to discuss District 45’s process, experience and takeaways from this project and partnership with Wold.

Read the Q&A below.

Tell us about the consolidation of your early childhood programming into one center. What was the process like?

One of our goals was to ensure the center serves students and staff for many years to come. We needed the design, material selections and technology implementation to withstand the test of time, and Wold’s team kept those goals at the forefront of our discussions while remaining organized and collaborative throughout the process. They also helped guide our committee members through decision making and ensured the project stayed on track.

Wold’s team facilitated effective conversations with committee members who had differing perspectives and opinions, and we were able to collaborate effectively. Their experience working with other school districts proved highly beneficial and allowed our district to make educated decisions and ultimately lay the foundation for the future of our district and community with projects like the new ECC.

How does centralizing resources into a consolidated facility add value for staff and students?

Centralizing resources into a consolidated facility also allows us to bring staff and students together and build a stronger community in a singular location. A singular space encourages all voices to be heard and included when making decisions, from teachers and assistants to therapists and Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) staff members.

For the first time, Professional Learning Communities meet in person on a weekly basis. Students and families can access different types of programming within one school building instead of needing to change buildings. The preschool screening process that all children must participate in is now more streamlined as a result of our consolidation.

It has also allowed us to move students more freely into different classroom types based on educational needs and gives them the opportunity to stay in the same building for several years rather than moving to different locations. Additionally, we have been able to more readily share staff between classrooms on a daily basis and create more continuity and efficiency of resources. Over the years, we’ve needed several staff members to move to different school buildings, often multiple times. Having them all under one roof provides stability for the staff and promotes a sense of belonging and cohesiveness for everyone involved in our early childhood programming.

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What are the benefits of this building for students and families, and how did it create community among them?

The new Early Childhood Center has created a sense of community by giving ownership to a group of community members who previously did not have a singular place to call their own. They work together to keep it clean, and those who were involved in the decision making are invested in the building’s future.

Many families visited the ECC prior to the first day of school at our Meet the Teacher event because they were excited to see the new facility. Parents can enjoy the Parent Library, a space where they gather to network and participate in parent education opportunities, on an ongoing basis. We’ve also observed a sense of pride in students’ parents when they state that they live in a community where early learners are valued and supported.

How would you describe Wold’s partnership throughout this journey?

Our partnership with Wold has been both professional and collegial. They have been very approachable, reliable, consistent and effective throughout the entire experience. Beginning with community referendum meetings, Wold was informative and organized. Their team helped us prepare for community presentations and answer questions from parents and community members. Once the referendum passed, Wold immediately engaged a committee of its staff and appointed key members from our staff, including cabinet-level administration, the early childhood principal and several staff members from the early childhood program. During this time, the COVID-19 pandemic had just started; however, Wold helped guide the committee and kept the project on track through virtual meetings where they shared drawings, pictures of materials and color swatches.

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How does this new facility help prepare students to enter kindergarten and reach their full potential?

This new facility allows our students to learn foundational skills in a developmentally and age-appropriate environment prior to heading to kindergarten. We worked together to choose calming colors in shades of blue, green and yellow to help students regulate emotions while at school. The team at Wold also suggested a “town center” theme that provides a whimsical and playful atmosphere. All of the building materials, finishes and furniture were specifically selected to enhance the early learning of three, four and five-year-olds and best prepare them for their futures. In addition, safety was always at the forefront of our planning when choosing finishes and furniture and designing the sensory rooms, gross-motor room and playground.

All in all, we’re sitting on the other end of this project with happy and proud community members, board of education members and students. Our students and their families have access to stable, supportive spaces for learning through the ECC, and the new center serves as a testament to why D45 continues to be a district of choice for families.

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Alison Andrews is an associate and can be reached at Mike Eichhorn, AIA, LEED, is also an associate and can be reached at

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