The Marygrove Early Education Center is by Detroit, for Detroit, to demonstrate the transformative potential of quality early education facilities in Detroit.

The Marygrove Early Education Center

Built on the campus of the historic Marygrove College in Northwest Detroit, the Marygrove Early Education Center demonstrates what early childhood education (ECE) can look like when best practices in facility design are incorporated into a development process driven by the needs of children, their families, and the broader community. In short, the Marygrove Early Education Center is by Detroit, for Detroit, to demonstrate the transformative potential of quality early education facilities in Detroit.

The Marygrove Early Education Center offers:

  • High-quality education for nearly 150 of Detroit’s youngest children (birth to age 5)
  • Comprehensive wraparound services for children and their families, including mental health services, speech therapy, and parenting programs
  • Professional development, networking, and resource connections for ECE providers in the surrounding Livernois & McNichols neighborhoods – creating connectivity between the center and the community that strengthens the continuum of services and education available to children from birth through their pursuit of higher education.

The 28,000-square-foot facility includes 12 spacious classrooms, dedicated developmental spaces, and a central focus on interior courtyards that bring in natural light and connect to the larger campus. Connectivity between the indoors and outdoors, the color scheme, and furnishings are several examples of how the Marygrove Early Education Center models best practices that can be incorporated in early education facilities throughout Detroit and beyond.

Our Role

IFF was honored to serve as the lead developer for the Marygrove Early Education Center, overseeing construction and working closely with architects, contractors, community members, and early childhood providers to develop and build the facility. We consulted and engaged with parents, families, caregivers, and childcare providers to help inform the design and ensure the center’s programs met the needs of the diverse community.

Our Partners

This state-of-the-art center is evidence of the vital and transformational role collaboration plays in strengthening communities. The team of partners who brought the Marygrove Early Education Center to fruition includes:

  • Detroit Parents & Childcare Providers who helped shape the center’s development by sharing insights about current early education needs in Detroit.
  • Starfish Family Services, a long-time ECE provider and champion for children and families across metro Detroit, operates the center with a diverse and highly qualified team of educators and administrators.
  • Marygrove Conservancy, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the legacy of Marygrove College, is actively stewarding the 53-acre campus in Northwest Detroit where the center is located.
  • Hope Starts Here Detroit, a citywide initiative to develop a comprehensive early childhood system that puts young children and families first, developed a framework that highlights leading practices for the design, operation, and financing of early childhood facilities – priorities that are reflected in the center’s physical design and programming.
  • The Kresge Foundation, a private foundation working to expand opportunities through grantmaking and social investing, helped fund the center’s development, committing $50 million to the project – the largest philanthropic investment in a Detroit neighborhood in history.
  • Barton Malow, a commercial and institutional construction company founded in Detroit, constructed the center and committed 20% of its construction spending to minority-, veteran-, and women-owned businesses.
  • Detroit Collaborative Design Center, a multidisciplinary, nonprofit design center based in the University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Architecture and Community Development (SACD), designed, facilitated, and implemented a community engagement process to inform the center’s development.

All Marygrove Early Education Center partners are also members of the P-20 Partnership, a “cradle-to-career” effort that offers comprehensive programming on Marygrove’s campus. This programming addresses various life stages and needs, ranging from pre-natal care to post-secondary graduate support. In addition to the organizations listed above, the P-20 Partnership includes the University of Michigan School of Education and Detroit Public Schools Community District.

To learn more about the role of each of the P-20 partners, read our detailed stories about the November 2019 groundbreaking and September 2021 grand opening.

Event Recording | Marygrove & Beyond: How Facilities Matter to Early Ed

Parents, educators, and architects alike know that safe and inspiring learning environments lay the foundation for positive early childhood experiences. Simply put: facilities matter. Every provider, from home-based caregivers to larger centers, can apply leading practices in ECE design.

On November 8, 2021, more than 100 people (from across the Midwest and throughout the country) joined us for a virtual event where we highlighted some of the features that can be seen at the recently opened Marygrove Early Education Center – and also shared how these features are truly universal and achievable in different scales, sizes, and types of early childhood settings.

Marygrove Early Education Center Timeline

When students walked through the doors of the Marygrove Early Education Center for the first time on September 7, 2021, it marked a significant step toward the realization of a P-20 campus on the former Marygrove College grounds. It was also the culmination of more than a decade of work by countless people and organizations committed to increasing the supply of ECE seats in Northwest Detroit; a pursuit grounded in the belief that quality ECE changes lives and communities for the better.

The timeline below looks back at the major milestones in the development of the Marygrove Early Education Center.

  1. 2013IFF lays groundwork for ECE investments

    IFF Founder Trinita Logue and CEO Joe Neri visit Michigan to connect with nonprofit leaders and foundations – including organizations in early childhood education – and begin to gather data about the state of the ECE landscape in Detroit and challenges faced by existing ECE providers. This visit leads to ongoing conversations with the Southeast Michigan Early Childhood Funders Collaborative about the need for investment in ECE facilities in Detroit.

  2. 2016IFF publishes study on ECE landscape in Detroit / Advocates establish Hope Starts Here Detroit

    In partnership with The Kresge Foundation, IFF publishes The System We Need: A Neighborhood Snapshot of Early Childhood Education in Detroit. The study, which is a comprehensive needs assessment of early childhood care and education in the City of Detroit, finds that the demand for early childhood seats far exceeds the supply in the communities surrounding the Marygrove College campus in Northwest Detroit — which represents nearly a third of the total gap in the city.

    The report includes recommendations related to policy, finance, and facility design, one of which is the creation of an exemplar ECE center to serve as a model for future development of ECE facilities in the United States.

    In response to the findings in the report, The Kresge Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation co-founded the Hope Starts Here Detroit initiative brings together ECE providers, parents, and other partners to mobilize a citywide commitment to put its children first.

    Hope Starts Here Detroit’s work kicks off with a one-year community engagement process designed to:

    • Create a vision of what early childhood could look like in Detroit
    • Develop a community framework to make that vision a reality
    • Inspire people across the city to get involved and bring that community framework to life
  3. 2017Hope Starts Here Detroit creates framework

    After completing a yearlong community engagement process to identify actionable steps to change the future of Detroit’s young children, Hope Starts Here Detroit publishes a Community Framework with six strategic imperatives — one of which is to ensure Detroit is a city with many high-quality spaces for children to learn.

    IFF is tapped to lead collaborative work on this imperative to create safe and inspiring learning environments. One result of that work is IFF’s Learning Spaces program — a $4 million investment from Kresge, Kellogg, and other philanthropic leaders to make strategic improvements in early learning facilities throughout the city.

  4. 2018Partners form Marygrove Conservancy / Community organizers launch design process / Partners announce landmark "P-20" effort

    (February) – Formed by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Marygrove College, and The Kresge Foundation, the Marygrove Conservancy is established and tasked with managing a landmark partnership to create a cradle-to-career educational campus on the grounds of Marygrove College. Marygrove College will soon cease operations as an undergraduate institution, but continue as a graduate school for educators — an integral part of the cradle-to-career campus.

    (August) – With the support of Detroit Collaborative Design Center and in service of the Hope Starts Here Detroit imperatives, IFF and Starfish Family Services begin an exhaustive community engagement process designed to solicit input from parents, caregivers, and existing childcare providers in the neighborhood surrounding Marygrove about the design aesthetic and service offerings they desire in a new ECE center. The outreach is conducted in numerous large community meetings, targeted focus groups, and one-on-one conversations.

    (September) – The effort already underway on the grounds of Marygrove College becomes known as the “P-20,” signifying that the campus will provide educational supports from pre-school to grad school (AKA grade 20). Backed by a $50 million commitment from The Kresge Foundation, the P-20 plan calls for a new ECE center, K-12 public school, and other projects designed to support the educational and career aspirations of community residents. The P-20 campus is designed to integrate academic experiences with community-driven services so that students of all ages are equipped to define their own future — as well as act as an economic and civic anchor in the revitalization efforts of the Livernois-McNichols community in Northwest Detroit.

    The landmark P-20 partnership includes: The Kresge Foundation, the University of Michigan School of EducationDetroit Public Schools Community DistrictStarfish Family Services, IFF, Detroit Collaborative Design Center, Marygrove College, and Marygrove Conservancy.

  5. 2019Architects unveil community-informed design / The School at Marygrove opens / Construction begins

    (July) – Informed by findings of the 11-month community engagement process facilitated by IFF, Starfish Family Services, and the Detroit Collaborative Design Center, the design for the future ECE center on the Marygrove campus is unveiled.

    The center features: 12 classrooms spread across 28,871 square feet; a 30,000-square-foot natural playscape designed to blend into the surrounding community; and universal accessibility to ensure children with disabilities can reap the full benefits of the facility. This design is intended to support the cognitive and socio-emotional development of local children while serving as a national exemplar for early childhood education.

    The design is also intended to support the facility’s role as a hub for community-based childcare providers, who will have access to the facility for professional development, training in best practices, and other resources to strengthen the ECE ecosystem in the region.

    (September) – Operated as a collaborative venture between Detroit Public Schools Community District and the University of Michigan School of Education and a critical element of the P-20 initiative on the Marygrove campus, The School at Marygrove launches with an inaugural ninth-grade class. Focusing on a curriculum grounded in social justice and engineering, the school will continue expanding enrollment in the coming years to serve K-12 students.

    (November) – The construction of the ECE center on the Marygrove campus officially begins with a groundbreaking ceremony attended by community members, P-20 partners, and local media. In its role as the project developer, IFF continues to work closely with P-20 partners, community members, and area providers while providing construction oversight and coordinating a project team that includes Marlon Blackwell Architects, Barton Malow (the project’s construction manager), and a variety of local, minority-owned subcontractors.

    At the groundbreaking event, IFF CEO Joe Neri sets the tone for the project, saying, “We want to create a symbol for everyone to see that the Detroit Renaissance is not just about a booming downtown; it’s about investment in our future and investment in our children.”

  6. 2020The ECE center "goes vertical"Critical tax credit financing closes

    (February) – After several months of preparation on the site following the groundbreaking ceremony, a major construction milestone is reached as the first steel beams are put in place.

    (September) – A $22 million New Markets Tax Credits deal to finance the Marygrove ECE center closes through a collaborative partnership between Northern Trust, Capital Impact Partners, MBS Urban Initiatives, and Cinnaire. To enable the project to move forward while the transaction was finalized, IFF provided a bridge loan of $7,566,914 prior to permanent financing being secured. Additional predevelopment funding came from The Kresge Foundation, which committed $50 million to the implementation of the cradle-to-career continuum at Marygrove.

  7. 2021Starfish Family Services names Celina Byrd as Principal / Starfish Family Services begins enrolling students / Construction is complete / Partners unveil new name / Kids attend first day of school! Community celebrates grand opening

    (January) – Prior to being appointed as Starfish Family Services’ first principal for the Marygrove ECE center, the veteran educator built strong relationships with partners in the community and on the campus while overseeing curriculum development, budgets, and program plans in her role as the project director for Starfish. Byrd has more than 20 years of experience educating children and families, including owning and operating her own childcare center in Detroit. Notably, Byrd is one of many Black women involved with the Marygrove ECE project who are playing an integral role in its success, which also prominently includes members of the P-20 partnership, the construction and design team, and community members.

    (March) – After receiving more than 140 inquiries from parents in the prior year amid a groundswell of interest, the enrollment process to fill 144 slots at the Marygrove ECE center officially begins. Parents submit applications, and Starfish reviews each one against a rubric that includes a consistent set of enrollment priority criteria. Priority is given to those living in close proximity to the Marygrove campus to ensure that the ECE center will meet local needs. All slots are quickly filled, signaling the demand for quality ECE in Northwest Detroit.

    (April) – Construction of the center reaches substantial completion on April 1317 months after the groundbreaking ceremony (3-D tour available here). 

    (August) – Previously referred to by its working name, the “Marygrove ECE center,” the facility is officially named the Marygrove Early Education Center in the month prior to its grand opening.

    (September) –

    On September 7, the Marygrove Early Education Center opens its doors for the first time to 144 children up to age five. Three-year-old student Ariyah Small provides a ringing endorsement of the facility, telling her mother “I love my school” after the first day as part of a conversation recounted to Chalkbeat Detroit.

    The center will operate with a blended funding model that includes both subsidized and market-rate ECE slots; this business model will not only increase the financial sustainability of the center but also help make it accessible to students of all income levels and bridge the achievement gap among students.

    On September 17, a ribbon cutting ceremony is held at the Marygrove Early Education Center to celebrate its grand opening after more than five years of work by countless people to increase the supply of early childhood education slots in Detroit.

    The new facility represents a historic investment in early childhood programming in the city, serves as a resource for local providers already offering quality care to children and their families in the area, and is positioned to catalyze additional investments for ECE programs in Detroit and beyond.

  8. 2010Early childhood funders form collaborative

    The Southeast Michigan Early Childhood Funders Collaborative was formed to improve the strength and impact of conversations about early childhood development and education while also defining a more strategic process in awarding grants tailored to helping children in under-resourced communities in the region. The founding members included: W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, Skillman Foundation, Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, McGregor Fund, Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, The Jewish Fund, and the PNC Foundation.