Trailblazing Early Learning Center Opens Doors on Marygrove Campus in Detroit

Trailblazing Early Learning Center Opens Doors on Marygrove Campus in Detroit

27,550.  

Out of context, this number means nothing. But for IFF, The Kresge Foundation, Starfish Family Services, and other partners working to build an early childhood center on the historic grounds of Marygrove College in northwest Detroit in recent years, it has long served as a call to action. That’s because it represents the number of children under the age of five in Detroit without access to quality early childhood education (ECE) from a licensed provider, which was identified in a 2015 IFF study 

In a Nutshell

What: The opening of the Marygrove Early Education Center, which will provide holistic care to children under the age of five and their families. The Center is a critical step in the implementation of a cradle-to-career continuum on the Marygrove Campus, designed to support children in Detroit’s Livernois-McNichols neighborhood from birth until they secure employment that enables them to thrive. 
Sector: Early Childhood Education 
Location: Detroit, MI (Livernois-McNichols) 
Size: 28,871 square feet 
Cost: $22,077,604 
Funding Sources: New Markets Tax Credits allocated by Northern Trust, Capital Impact Partners, MBS Urban Initiatives, and Cinnaire (permanent financing). IFF provided a bridge loan prior to permanent financing being secured, with additional predevelopment funding from The Kresge Foundation.  
IFF Support: $7,566,914 bridge loan and development of the facility 
IFF Staff Leads: Kirby Burkholder, Social Impact Accelerator President; Ashanti Bryant, Director of Early Childhood Services; Rachel Sikora, Senior Owner’s Representative 
Design: Marlon Blackwell Architects 
Construction: Barton Malow Builders 
Impact: 144 ECE seats created; 40+ FTE jobs created  

The Marygrove Early Education Center – opening this week – advances the goal of increasing access to quality early childhood education by serving 144 children in a neighborhood that accounts for one-third of the unmet demand for ECE slots in Detroit. Developed by IFF, the new facility represents a historic investment in early childhood programming in the city, will serve 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. Structural barriers grounded in systemic racism have impeded access to quality care, environments, and educational supports for children in Detroit for many years, and the new facility directly addresses those challenges while supporting the broader needs of the community.  

“We’re recruiting teachers and staff from the community, we’re recruiting families from the community to send their kids here, and we’re supporting those with limited financial resources who might not be able to access high-quality ECE otherwise,” says Celina Byrd, the Principal of the Marygrove Early Education Center. “When a flower doesn’t grow, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower. That’s what we’re doing here.” 

The completion of the Marygrove Early Education Center is also a critical step in the implementation of a Kresge Foundation-led initiative to create a cradle-to-career campus at Marygrove that supports children in the Livernois-McNichols neighborhood from birth until they secure employment that enables them to thrive.  

“The [Marygrove Early Education Center] sends an unequivocal message that Detroit’s future will rise or fall on our ability to provide pathways to success for all the city’s children,” said Kresge President and CEO Rip Rapson at a 2019 event. “Kresge’s investment in the Marygrove P-20 campus is predicated on the need for a full spectrum of high-quality educational opportunities in the city’s neighborhoods. Addressing that need starts with ensuring quality offerings for young children.” 

The Marygrove Early Education Center was designed and built with extensive input from community members and early childhood experts, ensuring its design would best support the cognitive and socio-emotional development of local children. Universal access principles were also incorporated into the design, meaning that children with disabilities will be able to reap the full benefits of attending the Marygrove Center. The Center was designed by Marlon Blackwell Architects, while Barton Malow Builders led construction and engaged local and minority-owned subcontractors to execute the project, further supporting the equity goals of the project while investing in the community.  

The result is 12 classrooms spread across 28,871 square feet, a 30,000-square-foot natural playscape designed to blend into the surrounding community, and a facility that fosters a sense of connection between children, teachers, staff, and their environment.  

Everything that a child needs from early childhood education doesn’t happen in the classroom. That concept was central to the design process, which incorporated interior courtyards and floor-to-ceiling windows that maximize natural light in every part of the building, creating opportunities for children to experience the outdoors – even when they’re inside.

“Everything that a child needs from early childhood education doesn’t happen in the classroom,” says Rachel Sikora, who has overseen construction as IFF’s Senior Owner’s Representative on the project. “That concept was central to the design process, which incorporated interior courtyards and floor-to-ceiling windows that maximize natural light in every part of the building, creating opportunities for children to experience the outdoors – even when they’re inside.” 

“The building is designed to fit form and function,” Byrd adds. “The space supports creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, encourages children to ask questions, and helps them connect with the world around them.” 

While the cutting-edge design of the facility will support young learners, the programming itself will also be innovative. In addition to high-quality curriculum in the classroom, Starfish Family Services will offer holistic support for children and families through behavioral and developmental health services, informed trauma care, parenting classes, and prenatal support, among other wraparound services. The Marygrove Early Education Center will also act as a hub for community-based childcare providers with professional development, best practices, and support resources available to strengthen the ECE ecosystem in the region. 

A New Beginning at Marygrove

On September 17, 2021, the Marygrove Early Education Center partners celebrated the grand opening of the facility with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Watch a recording of the event here.

“Part of the vision for Marygrove’s P-20 continuum is to support the broader community,” says Ashanti Bryant, IFF’s Director of Early Childhood Services. “ECE providers from all over Detroit will have an unbelievable venue for professional development, whether observing in classrooms or participating in teacher training academies to get credentialed. Quality facilities matter, and we want every ECE provider in the city to have the opportunity to learn firsthand the power of the facility as another teacher.” 

The full-day, full-year center was financed with approximately $22 million in New Markets Tax Credits through a collaborative partnership between Northern Trust, Capital Impact Partners, MBS Urban Initiatives, and Cinnaire. IFF provided a bridge loan of $7,566,914 prior to permanent financing being secured, with additional predevelopment funding coming from The Kresge Foundation, which has committed $50 million to the implementation of the cradle-to-career continuum at Marygrove. Importantly, the Marygrove Early Education 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.  

Quality facilities matter, and we want every ECE provider in the city to have the opportunity to learn firsthand the power of the facility as another teacher.

Now open, the facility is expected to serve as a national model for how to put early childhood education at the center of community revitalization efforts, as well as how quality facilities and comprehensive programming that addresses the needs of entire families can generate positive impact in a highly targeted manner. According to Bryant, the combination of data-driven decision-making, responsive community partners, intentionality in creating economic impact in the community, the use of the facility to provide holistic services, and collaboration to leverage necessary resources are all elements of the project that other communities can replicate to strengthen the local ECE ecosystem.  

“At Marygrove, predominantly minority children living in a childcare desert where the demand for quality ECE far outweighs the supply will have the chance to be educated and cared for in one of the highest quality early childhood spaces that the city has ever seen,” Bryant says. “And that investment in their futures really speaks to their value, the value of their care, and the values of their community. That’s what’s most important.” 

SIDEBAR

Marygrove Early Education Center Partners

  • IFF, which conducted research in 2015 to determine the need for additional ECE slots in the Livernois-McNichols neighborhood, consulted on best practices for ECE facilities and led construction of the ECE facility as the project developer.  
  • The Kresge Foundation, whose $50 million commitment to the redevelopment of the Marygrove Campus is enabling the implementation of a cradle-to-career continuum in Northwest Detroit 
  • Starfish Family Services is operating the early learning center and providing full-day, full-year care for families with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.  
  • University of Michigan School of Education worked with Starfish to co-develop the center’s curriculum and child-based services for children from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds in an urban setting. The university is also hosting a new Teaching Residency program on campus. 
  • Marygrove Conservancy, the nonprofit created to manage operations at the former Marygrove College, will steward the beautiful, tree-filled grounds of the 53-acre campus, where historic buildings have become new homes to K-12 schools and other educational services. 
  • Detroit Public School Community District (DPSCD) operates the School at Marygrove, which opened to its first class of ninth grade students in 2019 and will be a K-12 school.  
  • Detroit Collaborative Design Center coordinated the intentional effort to gather and integrate community input into the design process. They conducted large community meetings, focus groups, and one-on-one conversations focused on the Marygrove campus, while also attending existing local meetings to integrate with ongoing community conversations. Those engagements helped shape the physical and programmatic design of the early learning center – everything from the connectivity to the outdoors to the small classrooms to the wrap-around wellness services. 
  • The Marygrove Early Education Center At a Glance

    Photos by Timothy Hursley

          

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