Community gets its first look at plans for 'breathtaking' new Truman Early Childhood center

May 26, 2022


The excitement from staff and supporters of Truman Early Childhood Education Center was palpable Thursday as the community reviewed initial designs for the pre-K program’s new campus.

Truman Early Childhood will move from its Clara Street location to a new campus at the corner of North University Avenue and West Willow Street, situated on a 10.5-acre property the school board purchased in December. The school’s construction is being funded by $26.5 million in federal COVID-19 relief dollars.

David Hebert with Grace Hebert Curtis Architects said the plan is to begin construction on the campus in July, with an aim to finish by June 2023.

School board members Tehmi Chassion and Elroy Broussard held a town hall Thursday night at the Lafayette Parish School System’s main office to present the plans to the public. The crowd was mostly Truman staff, who shared laughs, gasps of surprise and smiles at the mockups of their future home.

“Life is about the moments that take your breath away. It’s not just about breathing," Principal Stephanie Francis said. "This is truly a moment that’s taking a lot of our breath away. It is a dream that I’ve had since I began in early childhood education, which was in 1988."

The school will be a 73,000 square-foot, single-story facility arranged in a starburst pattern around a central greenspace and play area. The school will initially be built to serve 480 students, with the option to add another wing to expand capacity to 600 students, Hebert said in a presentation.

The learning space will be broken into four wings called tripods and each tripod will serve 120 students. Each tripod will include a teacher planning space and a dedicated special education classroom, he said.

Each tripod will have six classrooms arranged in a triangle shape, with a central “discovery zone” where educators can bring children for tactile play opportunities, presentations and group activities with other classes, Herbert said.

Classrooms in the tripods will be paired.

Each set of two classrooms will include two bathrooms and a small group room between them. The small group room will allow interventionists or others to pull students for one-on-one time or small group activities without interrupting the larger classroom environment, the architect said.

The walls separating the two classrooms will open to allow teachers the option to combine their classes for group activities.

Hebert said the goal was to keep the scale — of the building and learning communities — manageable for the young children.

“We’re trying to bring down the scale of the amount of kids these learners engage with while at the same time still reinforcing that idea of community and fostering good relationships between kids and teachers,” Hebert said.

Dining space will be split into two areas, with each dining area servicing two tripods, or about 240 students.

The administrative offices will be at the front of the building, across the courtyard from the learning wings, along with a multipurpose space, where the school can host events without opening the children’s spaces to the public, Hebert said.

The school will be pushed back into the property to retain green space along North University Avenue. Traffic will be managed with a dedicated bus zone as well as three queue lanes for parent drop-off and pick-up to avoid creating congestion on nearby roads, he said.

The designs were the culmination of months of research into early childhood centers around the country and conversations with Truman teachers, staff, parents and other stakeholders.

Assistant Principal Shelley Chaisson said she was stunned by how fun the process was and how much say they were able to have in what would best serve the children who attend Truman. The hardest part was letting go of what they knew to imagine something bigger and better, she said.

“We came together and we all had a voice. And it was heard. We were told to dream and dream big,” Chaisson said.

Chaisson and Francis, the school’s principal, said Truman is believed to be the only public school serving exclusively pre-K students in the state, but the current building, constructed in the 1950s, doesn’t adequately communicate the quality learning and growth that takes place within its walls.

The new school will send a cohesive message.

“Finally,” the women said.

“We know that everything we’ve poured into them was with the bare minimums and we still shone in the state. Imagine what it will be like now,” Francis said.