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Preview of Preschool: Ribbon Cutting, Open House at ECC - from The Messenger

July 7, 2021

ECC staff cutting ribbon outside school

When parents drop their preschoolers and kindergarteners off at the Early Childhood Center, 104 S. 17th St., for the first time in August, they will walk into all new classrooms.

The building, which was most recently home to the Fort Dodge Community School District Central Office, has been transformed.

The $6.23 million renovation of the 56-year-old structure was designed by Allers Associates Architects, of Fort Dodge. Construction was handled by Jensen Builders Ltd., of Fort Dodge.

The renovation included enclosing the former east-side entrance and designing a library media center, constructing a new entrance on the south side of the building and building an additional four classrooms — two upstairs and two downstairs — on the building’s west side.

On Tuesday, hundreds of members of the community visited during an open house to see the new arrangement. At the same time, the Greater Fort Dodge Growth Alliance hosted a ribbon cutting to celebrate the achievement.

Carmen Banwart, the principal of the ECC, had the honor of cutting the ribbon. She’s enthusiastic about the new environment for children to learn in.

“We are super excited to start the Early Childhood Center,” said Banwart, who for the last three years has served as principal at Butler Elementary School.

The ECC will house six preschool classrooms, two transitional kindergarten classrooms and 12 kindergarten classrooms.

“It’s kind of that central hub, so all of our children across the district will be here,” Banwart said. “For a lot of families it’s the first time they will experience school with their children, so it’s really building and cultivating that culture of care and partnership.”

The idea for the new ECC was born in fall of 2019, when then Superintendent Jesse Ulrich presented the school board with a plan to move the district’s fifth grade down to the elementary school level. The issue of available space — or lack thereof — in the district’s neighborhood elementary schools birthed the idea of creating a “kindergarten campus,” which eventually evolved into the Early Childhood Center.

Banwart credited the administration, both past and present, for their vision.

“Everything is child-centered,” she said.

Banwart is looking forward to the new opportunity.

“Butler is a wonderful school with a wonderful staff,” she said. “It was a very hard decision.”

Banwart, who is entering her 30th year in education, will have a familiar face joining her at the ECC.

Tonia Burrell, who worked at Butler for the past 12 years, accepted the position of assistant principal on Tuesday.

“I just found out today,” Burrell said on Tuesday.

Being an educator has been a lifelong passion for Burrell.

“Education has always been my passion,” she said. “I’ve wanted to be a teacher and administrator ever since I was little. I love to see kids smile. I love to have kids come to a building and they want to learn. They are just so eager to learn and want to grow. They love to be around their friends.”

Burrell, a Fort Dodge Senior High graduate, most recently served as Butler’s ABC coordinator. She also taught kindergarten for nine years.

classroom with tables and chairsOne of the joys she’s experienced is getting children on the right track for becoming readers.

“I have really worked with kids in the foundations of reading,” Burrell said. “This is the first place that they really have school. It’s a proud moment when you can see kids beginning to read and put sounds to words and start reading.”

Burrell was thrilled to see so many members of the community visiting the new building.

“This is so refreshing to have everyone back in the building,” Burrell said. “We haven’t done this for a long time to have parents here, to talk to parents and to talk to kids.”

The first day of school for TK and kindergarten is scheduled for Aug. 24 and the first day for preschool is set for August 30.

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