New Brunswick / Newark, NJ, DIGroup Architecture (DIG), along with the City of Newark and four of its community partners, has been named a 2023 Smart Growth Award winner for its Clinton Hill Early Learning Center project, a newly constructed two-story, 40,000-SF Early Head Start and pre-school in the city’s South Ward. The center, which was designed by New Brunswick-based DIG, welcomed its first students in June, 2022.

The brainchild of four local-area non-profit groups – The Maher Charitable Foundation, La Casa de Don Pedro, Clinton Hill Community & Early Childhood Center, Inc. and Clinton Hill (Newark) Community Action – and a concept 20 years in the making, the center fills a vital need for a quality early childhood education facility in Newark’s Clinton Hill neighborhood.

“A once-vacant, blighted land parcel, the Clinton Hill Early Learning Center now stands as a thriving and vibrant destination for the neighborhood’s youngest members and families,” said Rich Alderiso, DIG Principal in Charge of the firm’s PreK – 12 Studio who spearheaded the project. “Time spent with the partner teams as well as parents, educators, children and residents inspired and influenced the programming, layout and design of the center, which resulted in a modern space for learning and early childhood development as well as access to quality childcare services and community-use space.”

Charged with creating spaces that would meet the far-reaching needs of youngsters aged 6 months to 4 years old as well as teachers and families, DIG embraced the opportunity to transform what had become an underutilized parcel into a new ground-up, two-story community destination.

Home to Early Head Start and Pre-school programming, the Clinton Hill Early Learning Center serves as a visual landmark and source of community pride with six toddler rooms and 10 Pre-K classrooms organized in pairs for easy connectivity to shared spaces. Additional features include indoor play areas, a family center, play-therapy suite and open circulation spaces wrapping the building perimeter. Large windows allow for abundant natural light and serve as a visual gateway to the sky, courtyards and an adjacent community garden.

Intentionally designed for flexibility and multi-use, the center also features a 200-person all-purpose room for school functions, services and community use as well as a commercial-grade kitchen. The building is cohabitated by La Casa de Don Pedro Early Head Start and Clinton Hill’s Pre-K programs.

“The Clinton Hill Early Learning Center was borne out of a commitment to equalize educational options and future academic success,” added Alderiso, who noted DIG – a certified MBE/DBE/SBE firm – recognizes the impact of architecture and design on individuals and groups within a community, particularly those that have been historically underserved. “The center’s success was made possible thanks to the involvement of officials with the City of Newark, local civic-group leaders, parents, educators and children, all of whom collaborated to inspire and influence its layout and design.”

Awarded annually by New Jersey Future, the Smart Growth Awards recognize the latest and most-innovative in planning, development and redevelopment in the Garden State. DIG and its community partners are being honored on Tues., October 3 at the New Brunswick Performing Arts Center along with six other projects being recognized for their groundbreaking contributions toward making New Jersey communities sustainable and strong.