New Jersey / Philadelphia / New York, – While the education sector has undergone sweeping disruptors in the past few years, federal and state support programs are presenting organizations like DIGroup Architecture (DIG), who are involved with reconfiguring how early childhood learning is delivered and prioritized across the region, with a sense of renewed fous. Among the firm’s latest projects are early childhood educational centers in Newark, Paterson, Passaic and East Brunswick.
“It became abundantly clear – even before the onset of the pandemic – that it was beyond time to take a critical look at how space was being defined and – more importantly – how it could be better used in the early childhood learning setting to ensure our young people are set up for future success, especially those in underserved communities,” said DIG Principal Rich Alderiso. “Our approach is rather simple: we take into account a wide range of variables, from programming and stakeholders’ needs to funding, in order to create a stimulating and engaging environment that continually encourages the rapid brain development and potential of youngsters at an early age.”
In many cases, funding plays a role that is just as important as the community’s mission to facilitate early-childhood development. To support the former, three recent federal relief and stimulus packages – the CARES Act, CRRSA and ARPA – have earmarked $50B for childcare alone.
Along the Philadelphia-New Jersey-New York corridor, support to restructure and create a system for early education is unanimous. In fact, state officials and educational leaders are working collaboratively in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York to establish objectives and implement clear solutions to combat childcare and educational challenges, which are closely linked to establishing a solid foundation for future academic success.
For example, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy has released the New Jersey Strategic Plan for Preschool Expansion, which identifies 27 schools to receive a portion of the $26+M in the state’s FY23 budget to “establish or expand high-quality preschool programs” for local children. Selected schools will receive funding to implement full-day preschool programs and increase preschool accessibility to 70,000 seats across the state, with the ultimate goal of providing preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds. Pennsylvania and New York have similar goals for the children in their states.
“The school administrators, teachers and communities develop the strategy for how these programs will be realized and DIG is looking forward to participating in the development of these physical spaces,” said Alderiso. “It’s not just about retrofitting existing structures or building new ground-up facilities. It is about working with the schools to create spaces that meet the far-reaching needs of their students, teachers and families. It’s about creating spaces that honor the past and set the tone for the future. It’s about creating spaces that inspire learning, function flexibly and provide safety for members of the community.”
DIGroup Architecture is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of creating these spaces that have functional and aesthetic requirements and comply with funding requirements. The firm, which has a studio of highly skilled architects, designers and project managers who specialize in serving the academic sector, has experience creating and delivering high-performance and sustainable solutions.
One such example is the Clinton Hill Early Learning Childhood Center in Newark’s South Ward. Completed in 2021, the award-winning facility provides a place for children to learn, grow and develop, as well as a space for community members to gather.
The firm has also completed the Community Charter School of Paterson (CCSP), a new elementary school in this Passaic County city. A 35,000-square-foot adaptive reuse project, CCSP provides 25 classrooms for up to 500 students, a multi-purpose room with kitchen, library, gymnasium and a “Think Tank” – a glowing, cylinder-shaped room, clad in polycarbonate panels that functions as a student resource center.
Additional projects in the education space include Children’s Day Pre-School and Family Center in the City of Passaic, as well as an elementary school in East Brunswick. The firm has also completed or has been commissioned for several similar projects in New York.
“In each project we undertake, we work shoulder to shoulder with our clients and community members to develop a plan that makes sense for them,” said Alderiso. “It’s an exciting time for the education sector across our region and across the nation – and our team is ready, willing and able to support children and their families in all communities by delivering a modern discovery-based learning environment that fosters independence through architecture for change.”