URBANA — Washington Early Childhood and Prairie School students wearing tiny hard hats and carrying plastic shovels were ready to work in the Friday afternoon sunshine.
The students, along with school board members, school district officials and other local dignitaries participated in a groundbreaking that marks the official start of construction on the school district's new early childhood center.
The new school will be a state-of-the-art facility scaled for the preschoolers who will attend it, said Ota Dossett, the school district's director of facilities.
Digging on the building's footings has already started, Dossett said, thanks to the mild winter, and it's scheduled to be done in the summer of 2013. The school will move in during the summer and be ready to start the school year there in August 2013, he said.
"It will be a beautiful addition to that end of town," Dossett said.
The new school will cost $11.8 million, paid for partially with money from bonds sold that the school district will repay with money from the school facilities sales tax.
The new school will adjoin Prairie Elementary with a gym that has a stage and three fine-arts classrooms for Prairie.
Washington Early Childhood School Principal Cris Vowels said the school will serve 360 students, the same number the current Washington Early Childhood School serves. But the school district has applied for a grant that would pay for four more classrooms through the state board of education, Vowels said.
"If we get that grant, we hope to serve more children," Vowels said.
The building is designed so the school district can easily add on, Dossett said.
The building will feature a geothermal heating and cooling system, three four-classroom "villages," which are organized around shared spaces. It also includes plenty of space for students' individual needs, like sensory spaces, places for families to interact with their students, Vowels said, and a teacher workroom and staff lounge.
It will also include easy access to technology, she said, something that's troublesome in the current building, even as far as outlets in rooms.
The gym has controlled access so it can be rented out to community members, but they won't be able to get into either school, Dossett said. It will also have a security system with cameras on the outside and inside, watching the entrances.
At the ground breaking ceremony, Vowels thanked her staff members, school district officials.
The community, she said, played an important part in making the new school possible.
"We really want to thank the community members who have advocated and supported for this project," Vowels said.