In a Nutshell
What: Through a new program launched in 2022 that’s modeled after IFF’s Learning Spaces program in Detroit, PRE4CLE is helping ECE providers in Cleveland upgrade their facilities with support from IFF’s real estate team while also providing additional capacity-building supports meant to increase kindergarten readiness across the city.
Sector: Early Childhood Education
Location: Cleveland, OH
IFF Support: Research and policy support to design PRE4CLE’s Cleveland Early Learning Spaces program; Owner’s representative for five preschool and Head Start providers completing facility renovations through Early Learning Spaces
IFF Staff Leads: Robin Toewe, Director of Real Estate Solutions – Michigan; Clarence Wright, Senior Owner’s Representative; Meg Slifcak, Director of Real Estate Solutions – Ohio; Jeff Henze, Implementation Director, Early Childhood
Impact: Facility upgrades for five providers with the combined capacity to serve more than 600 children, birth through age 12
New floors, ceiling tiles, countertops, lighting, bathroom fixtures, and more. These are just a few of the building upgrades completed recently in three classrooms at Murtis Taylor’s Kathryn R. Tyler Child Enrichment Center in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, providing the nonprofit human services agency with an inspiring space optimized to support the development of 65 of the city’s youngest learners.
Facilitated by a $100,000 grant from PRE4CLE – an initiative launched in 2013 to improve kindergarten readiness across the City of Cleveland – the project is one of five completed in recent months with support from IFF’s real estate team, which served as the owner’s representative for members of the first cohort of PRE4CLE’s Cleveland Early Learning Spaces program.
Offering grants and other financial supports, professional development, and technical assistance, Cleveland Early Learning Spaces is designed to provide community-based child care and Head Start providers the full spectrum of support needed to transform their spaces into quality learning environments equipped to support the health, safety, learning, and development of young children.
For Murtis Taylor, which provides behavioral health, addiction, youth, family, and senior services to more than 10,000 children and adults annually across ten locations, participating in the Early Learning Spaces program was an opportunity to update a facility built in 1948 to reflect current best practices in design. In addition to replacing outdated building materials and fixtures, that meant de-cluttering classrooms, increasing natural light, and repainting in neutral colors – all of which have a profound positive impact on children’s ability to learn and job satisfaction among teachers.
The changes didn’t stop there, however, with Murtis Taylor able to leverage the PRE4CLE grant to secure additional funding from Cuyahoga County and other sources to further improve the facility by replacing the roof, repaving a parking lot previously pocked with potholes, and installing an elevator to improve accessibility.
“Cleveland is a rust belt city, so a lot of our infrastructure and building stock is old, and issues caused by deferred maintenance are common,” says Michelle Connavino, PRE4CLE’s deputy director. “Our early childhood education (ECE) providers here are incredibly resourceful and committed to this work, but what they have to work with is not enough. It’s really exciting to see the way that providers like Murtis Taylor have leveraged Early Learning Space grant dollars to secure more funding to complete additional building upgrades.”
“Our early childhood education providers here are incredibly resourceful and committed to this work, but what they have to work with is not enough.”
A proven model to increase the quality of early learning spaces
PRE4CLE is a collective impact initiative working to expand access to high-quality preschool to all 3- and 4-year-olds in the city of Cleveland so that every child enters kindergarten ready to succeed. As part of Cleveland’s Plan for Transforming Schools, PRE4CLE is guided by a set of community-level goals and strategies that drive high-quality preschool expansion and enrollment in the city. Overseen by The Cleveland Early Childhood Compact, a public-private leadership body, the organization’s work focuses holistically on helping families find and enroll in high-quality preschool programs; connecting preschool providers to key partners, tools, and resources to increase their quality and serve more children; and providing strategic leadership and advocacy to accelerate the availability of high-quality preschool in Cleveland.
For Cleveland Early Learning Spaces, PRE4CLE is borrowing from a model established by IFF in Michigan to align facility quality with program quality among ECE providers, whose margins make it extraordinarily difficult to allocate resources to building projects. To develop the program, PRE4CLE began working in 2020 with Jeff Henze, IFF’s implementation director for early childhood, to gain an understanding of how IFF’s Learning Spaces program in Detroit was structured and to discuss lessons learned with the goal to adapt the program to succeed in Cleveland.
“That model is the base of what we’re doing in Cleveland now, and having IFF as a thought partner has really lent credibility to the work,” says Connavino. “There are so many similarities between Detroit and Cleveland, and so having a successful model to point to that worked there has helped overcome some of the challenges related to raising money for the Early Learning Spaces program.”
Among the most important funding wins for PRE4CLE as Early Learning Spaces was conceived was a $1 million grant from The George Gund Foundation that was matched by a donation from Gordon Gund and the late Llura Gund – providing critical start-up capital to operate the program. These investments not only enabled PRE4CLE to launch the first cohort of the program, but to build momentum as the organization sought additional sources of funding to scale Early Learning Spaces.
Last December, with assistance from Representative Shontel Brown (OH-11) and Senator Sherrod Brown (OH), PRE4CLE secured $1.29 million in community project funding from the federal government to support Cleveland Early Learning Spaces, and the organization has since been working with the City of Cleveland to apply for an additional $5 million supported by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
“One of our goals is to invest in public-private partnerships at the local level that are taking best practices to scale, and PRE4CLE is a great example of that,” says Marcia Egbert, program director at The George Gund Foundation and co-chair of the Cleveland Early Childhood Compact. “We see philanthropy as a way to incentivize innovation that translates into more effective public policy, which is why the Gund Foundation was excited to make an investment in the Early Learning Spaces program that opened the door for significant public investment in the infrastructure needed to support high-quality early learning in Cleveland.”
“PRE4CLE’s expertise is early childhood education, and to have partners like the real estate team at IFF to support the providers in navigating construction and to bring that knowledge and capacity to the program has been incredible.”
After tapping IFF for its ECE expertise to help design the Early Learning Spaces program, and securing the funding needed to launch the first cohort, PRE4CLE turned to IFF’s real estate team to provide the hands-on support needed to guide facility renovation projects through to successful completion. As the owner’s representative for the first Early Learning Spaces cohort, IFF’s real estate team provided assessments of each provider’s facility to prioritize needs to be addressed with PRE4CLE’s grant funding, cultivated relationships with contractors and other vendors, defined scopes of work and budgets for each project, secured bids and finalized contracts, and worked closely with each provider to ensure that renovations were completed as planned.
“PRE4CLE’s expertise is early childhood education, and to have partners like the real estate team at IFF to support the providers in navigating construction and to bring that knowledge and capacity to the program has been incredible,” says Connavino. “I don’t think we could have pulled Early Learning Spaces off without those services.”
With the first cohort of Cleveland Early Learning Spaces nearly complete, PRE4CLE is taking learnings and applying them to an ambitious plan to continue growing the program. The organization is seeking to raise capital to fully fund renovation project costs for 145 additional center-based and home providers. Supporting the program moving forward will be a new, full-time staff person responsible for managing Early Learning Spaces’ day-to-day operations and nurturing the program’s continued growth.
To further increase access to quality early learning in Cleveland, PRE4CLE is also working toward a long-term goal to raise $60 million for the construction of six new child care centers in Cleveland neighborhoods where there are too few ECE seats to meet the demand for quality early learning.
“Every parent deserves to walk into a child care center where they’re going to send their kid for eight hours a day or more and feel good that they’re putting their child in a place that’s healthy, beautiful, and fun,” says Connavino. “There’s a lot of momentum right now around the quality of early learning facilities, and it’s an exciting time to be growing an equity-centered program that’s creating spaces designed to support all of the learning and development goals of early childhood.”