Thursday morning marked the official start of construction on The Franklin School, a $10 million early childhood learning center in the city of Spartanburg’s Northside neighborhood.

Northside residents, school leaders, elected officials and children from the Cleveland Academy of Leadership wearing hard hats and wielding shovels joined project partners, including the Northside Development Group and Mary Black Foundation, to move the first scoops of dirt for the new school at 100 Franklin St.

“We have great things that are going to take place in our community and we’re all very excited. In the Northside community we are experiencing transformation,” said Linda Askari, president of Northside Neighborhood Association. “Today we celebrate another resource to this community, for our community. Our children are the future and they deserve the best in life, and The Franklin School will provide that.”

Harper Construction will finish the school in late 2018, and it will be open in early 2019.

The school will comprise 28,000 square feet and accommodate 160-200 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. It will offer full-year, full-day programming, and will charge tuition.

Project leaders said $6 million in private dollars already has been committed to the project, and new market tax credits could help fill the funding gap.

The architect for the center is Omaha, Neb.-based RDG Design & Planning, which specializes in designing buildings with childhood development in mind. The center will include large window walls, extra-wide hallways and an outdoor playground accessible from all classrooms.

Molly Talbot-Metz, vice president of programs with the Mary Black Foundation, said the nonprofit has helped to fund different projects throughout the Northside, and the new school aligns with the nonprofit’s focus on early childhood development.

More than three years ago, the Mary Black Foundation announced an initial gift of $1 million to build a high-quality early learning center for children in Spartanburg and to serve as a model for the rest of the state.

“After that initial gift was made, the hard work really started. The Northside Development Group quickly formed a committee to focus on the early learning center,” Talbot-Metz said. “We couldn’t be more proud of how our initial investment has leveraged these partnerships.”

Dr. Russell Booker, the superintendent of Spartanburg School District 7, said the school has become a reality through a collective impact involving community relationships and partnerships. The leadership that has worked to bring the school to fruition is worthy of celebration too, he said.

“When I think about the work that has spurred the revitalization of this Northside community, I’m so humbled as a school superintendent that education has been at the core of this neighborhood’s rebirth,” Booker said.

Spartanburg County First Steps will run The Franklin School’s programming, which will be modeled after Educare Schools. The model is based on research from early childhood development, education, social work and other related fields.

“Early education when done well has positive effects for children’s success in school and later in life,” said Barbara Manoski, director of Quality Counts with Spartanburg County First Steps. “The Franklin School is designed with young children’s natural curiosity and of learning in mind.”

A partnership between Northside Development Group, First Steps’ Early Head Start program, Piedmont Community Action’s Head Start program and Spartanburg School District 7’s 4K program will provide financial support to allow children whose families can’t afford to pay the full price of tuition to attend the center.

Manoski said priority enrollment will be given to children living in the Northside; then children zoned for Cleveland Academy of Leadership; then children who are city of Spartanburg residents; then children zoned for other District 7 schools, and then children who are Spartanburg County residents.

Through a partnership with University of South Carolina Upstate, The Franklin School also will provide training and internships for students in the university’s School of Education Child Development and Family Studies program. The school will have an observation room equipped with technology to allow students to observe the children.

The new school is part of the larger Northside redevelopment initiative that aims to restore infrastructure and a thriving community for residents.

“This is an important moment for this community. As we have often said, the Northside is a great project for Spartanburg to celebrate,” said Bill Barnet, chair of the Northside Development Group. “But there are many parts of our community that need this kind of support and encouragement. And I hope from all of us that what we learn on the Northside will be translated throughout Spartanburg and beyond.”

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