Denver Public Schools recently broke ground on a $5.5 million, state-of-the-art preschool to serve the residents of far Northeast Denver. Construction began Nov. 29 and is expected to be finished in time for preschoolers to fill its rooms in August 2011.

Funding for the preschool is coming from the $454 million bond program voters approved in 2008.

Montbello Early Childhood CenterThe Montbello Early Education Center is being built in far Norhteast Denver, at 5300 Crown Blvd. This location was chosen because of the significant student capacity needs that are facing that area of the city. The preschool is only the first phase of a construction project that could ultimately become a preschool through fifth grade elementary school, which would free up some the existing schools to be used for other enrollment needs.

“One of the ways we could address strategically the capacity needs was to create this center,” said Kelly Leid, DPS director of operations. “Essentially what we are doing is reallocating or moving existing early childcare education and kindergarten programs from a target group of schools facing overcrowding into this center, which frees up space that can be reallocated for K-5 or K-8 schools.”

Existing early childhood and pre-kindergarten education programs and schools that currently feed into Greenwood, Maxwell, Archuleta and Ford elementary schools will eventually be combined at the Montbello Early Education Center.

The first phase of construction will have enough space to handle 350 preschool children.

The plan for construction – from design to completion – will only take seven or eight months, which is what makes this school so state-of-the-art. The planners are using a design-build strategy, which means a contractor and architect work collaboratively to shorten the planning and design style, allowing the project to be executed faster.

The project comes at a good time, according to Supt. Tom Boasberg, since the number of 4-year-olds in full-day preschool has increased dramatically in the past few years. The number of 5-year-olds in full-day kindergarten has also risen from just over 70 percent to more than 95 percent.

Boasberg added that while the center’s construction is cause for celebration, there is still a lot to do.

“We need to keep strengthening and growing our preschool and kindergarten programs,” he said. “That’s a very tough challenge, however, given that Colorado lags far behind other states in funding these early-years programs.”

As a state, Colorado only funds a half-day of kindergarten instruction and makes minimal investments in preschool education, Boasberg said.