Photograph of the entrance to a one-story school building.
Photograph of the interior of a classroom containing a table and four chairs, a book display, and play equipment, with a landscaped play area beyond large windows in the back wall.
Photograph of the front façade of a one-story school building.
Photograph of the lobby of a school building with a built-in counter and a seating area.
Photograph of landscaped play areas, with a one-story school building in the background.
Photograph of four children eating at a round table in a room with large windows.

 

Home >Case Studies >St. Louis, Missouri: The Flance Early Learning Center Opens Doors to Opportunity in the Carr Square Neighborhood

 

St. Louis, Missouri: The Flance Early Learning Center Opens Doors to Opportunity in the Carr Square Neighborhood

 

The Carr Square neighborhood on the north side of St. Louis, Missouri, one mile from downtown, has been the focus of comprehensive redevelopment in recent decades. Located in one of the state’s lowest-income ZIP codes, the area has attempted to reverse years of disinvestment and decline by converting public housing properties into mixed-income housing opportunities. Neighborhood stakeholders envisioned quality early childhood education as a critical strategy to maximize the neighborhood benefits associated with additional mixed-income housing. The Flance Early Learning Center, which opened in June 2014 on the site of a former public housing highrise, provides needed education and daycare services for St. Louis children and advances neighborhood revitalization. The Flance Center earned the 2017 American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary’s Award for Housing and Community Design in the Community-Informed Design category for its participatory stakeholder process and its innovative design, intended to foster a creative learning environment for young children and encourage community interaction.

Flance Early Learning Center

The Flance Early Learning Center is a 24,000-square-foot facility serves up to 154 children aged 4 months through 5 years each weekday from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm. The center intentionally encourages socioeconomic diversity, enrolling children from low- and moderate-income families receiving public subsidies as well as children from families paying full tuition. As of February 2018, the Flance Center had enrolled 93 children, mostly from low- and moderate-income families. The center is continuing to increase its enrollment up to its available seat limit, with a goal of recruiting students from a more diverse mix of income levels.

Occupying one quadrant of an intersection of two local streets, adjacent to another public housing property that was redeveloped as mixed-income housing, the building is designed to accommodate the Flance Center’s innovative approach to early education and community engagement. The center’s primary community engagement component, a community room, is located at the junction of the building’s two wings, and a health and wellness suite, demonstration kitchen, and the school’s administrative offices occupy the rest of the building’s streetfront spaces.

The Flance Center’s educational rooms line the rear of the building facing the site’s open space. The center’s 13 classrooms are clustered according to age group — infant, toddler, and preschooler — with the classrooms having direct access to a play area for each age group. In addition, the preschool students have access to a playground. Connecting the indoor learning environment to the play areas is a design feature that advances the center’s whole-child approach to preparing children for kindergarten, according to Mark Cross, director of the Flance Center. This approach is modeled on the philosophy of the LUME Institute, an expert in early childhood education, as well as the nationally recognized Creative Curriculum, which attends to children’s social, emotional, and academic development.

To further its holistic approach to child development, the Flance Center provides supplementary services for children and their families. Once per month, a nurse practitioner from a nearby federally qualified health center provides immunizations and basic wellness checks for students in the health and wellness suite. The demonstration kitchen is used to prepare the children’s meals and to offer cooking classes for families of attending children and staff. A community garden is maintained by Urban Harvest STL, which leads the children in gardening activities, harvests the produce, and helps the center’s cook incorporate the produce into the children’s meals. The Flance Center distributes excess produce, which totaled 470 pounds in 2017, to staff and children’s families.

The community room, which is adjacent to the building’s entrance, is available to community organizations at no cost for hosting meetings during and outside of the Flance Center’s operating hours. For safety reasons, double-locked doors prevent public access to the interior education spaces. The community room, a priority recommendation from the community during the design process, is used by various community organizations, including groups coordinating ongoing redevelopment efforts in the neighborhood. Project Connect, for example, meets in the community room to help coordinate public and private investments related to the relocation of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) headquarters to a site on the north side. The $1.75 billion NGA development, expected to be completed in 2024, played an important role in the city’s successful application for a Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant in 2016. The Flance Center also uses the community room for its board of directors meetings, professional development training for staff, and monthly meetings with children’s families.

Community-Informed Design

During the planning process to replace the St. Louis Housing Authority’s high rises on the city’s near north side with mixed-income housing, community residents expressed a need for improvements in public education. McCormack Baron Salazar, lead partner in the redevelopment efforts, focused on Jefferson Elementary School, raising private funds to purchase new technology and upgrade the school facility. As improvements to Jefferson Elementary took shape, the community wanted to ensure that students entering the school’s kindergarten would be ready for success, and quality early childhood education became a community priority. The housing agency, which owned 1.5 acres across the street from Jefferson Elementary, leased the land now occupied by the Flance Center.

The center is the product of a comprehensive community participation process involving seven community meetings from early 2011 to 2013. The core planning team relied on an advisory council of 24 members consisting of representatives from city agencies, elected officials, service providers, and community residents. According to Emily Scanlon, project architect at Trivers Associates, the advisory council was responsible for refining goals, identifying community resources, and confirming partner organizations to deliver services at the Flance Center. The University City Children’s Center (UCCC), a project stakeholder and the original operator of the facility, played a critical role in deciding on the features and services that would advance the project’s goals. Some meetings were held in an existing UCCC facility to better understand classroom learning conditions.

The community also raised concerns that small, local daycare providers would lose business to the new facility. To address these concerns, the Flance Center organized professional development training for daycare operators shortly after opening and, according to Cross, will reintroduce this outreach in the future when additional funding becomes available.

Financing

Financing for the Flance Center came from both public and private sources (table 1). The project received a HUD Capital Fund Education and Training Facilities program grant in 2011, and the Goldman Sachs Urban Investment Group provided new markets tax credit equity. According to Laurel Tinsley, executive director of McCormack Baron Salazar Urban Initiatives, a sign of passion for the project is the broad representation of community leaders on the center's board, who helped raise funds for the building’s construction.

Table 1. Financing for Flance Early Learning Center
HUD Capital Fund Education and Training Facilities grant$5,000,000
New Markets Tax Credit program equity$2,779,000
Fundraising$2,480,000
Total$10,259,000

Benefits of Mixed-Income Early Childhood Education

Recent studies have found that mixed-income learning environments such as the Flance Center improve educational outcomes for young children. The LUME Institute’s approach to preschool education is intended to achieve lasting positive outcomes not only for children but also for the communities in which their families live. The Flance Center anticipates that the value of its mixed-income approach will increase as its student body continues to diversify. Cross expects that ongoing neighborhood revitalization efforts — in particular, the planned development of the NGA headquarters — will help the Flance Center achieve its goals for an even more diverse, mixed-income learning environment.


 

Source:

Document provided by Trivers Associates; Document provided by McCormack Baron Salazar; Brookings Institution. 2005. “HOPE VI and Mixed-Finance Redevelopments: A Catalyst for Neighborhood Renewal,” 30–1. Accessed 28 March 2018; Interview with Mark Cross, director, Flance Early Childhood Learning Center, 28 February 2018; Interview with Laurel Tinsley, executive director, McCormack Baron Salazar Urban Initiatives, 1 March 2018; Jennifer Owens-Morgan. 2014. “New Flance Center set to bloom in spring with first enrollees,” press release, St. Louis Housing Authority, 8 April. Accessed 28 March 2018; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2017. “American Institute of Architects/HUD Secretary's Housing and Community Design Awards: Community-Informed Design Award.” Accessed 28 March 2018; Urban Strategies. 2012. “William T. Kemper Foundation Grant Request Application,” 5. Accessed 28 March 2018.

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Source:

Jennifer Owens-Morgan. 2014. “New Flance Center set to bloom in spring with first enrollees,” press release, St. Louis Housing Authority, 8 April. Accessed 28 March 2018; Interview with Mark Cross, director, Flance Early Childhood Learning Center, 28 February 2018; Document provided by Trivers Associates; Correspondence from Mark Cross, 15 March 2018; Flance Center. n.d. “Tuition.” Accessed 28 March 2018; Interview with Laurel Tinsley, executive director, McCormack Baron Salazar Urban Initiatives, 1 March 2018.

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Source:

Document provided by Trivers Associates; Correspondence from Emily Scanlon, project architect, Trivers Associates, 8 and 14 March 2018.

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Source:

Document provided by Trivers Associates; Interview with Mark Cross, 28 February 2018; Correspondence from Emily Scanlon, project architect, Trivers Associates, 23 March 2018; Correspondence from Mark Cross, 15, 23, and 26 March 2018; Flance Center. n.d. “Our Curriculum & Approach.” Accessed 28 March 2018; Teaching Strategies. 2018. “The Creative Curriculum® for Preschool.” Accessed 28 March 2018.

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Source:

Interview with Mark Cross, 28 February 2018; Flance Center. n.d. “What Makes Flance Special?” Accessed 28 March 2018; Urban Harvest STL. n.d. “Flance School Garden.” Accessed 28 March 2018.

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Source:

Document provided by Trivers Associates; Interview with Mark Cross, 28 February 2018; Correspondence from Emily Scanlon, project architect, Trivers Associates, 14 March 2018; St. Louis Development Corporation. 2018. “Next NGA West.” Accessed 28 March 2018; St. Louis Development Corporation. 2018. “Project Connect in North St. Louis.” Accessed 28 March 2018; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. n.d. “Choice Neighborhoods: 2016 Implementation Grant Awards,” 10–1. Accessed 28 March 2018.

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Source:

Document provided by McCormack Baron Salazar; Interview with Laurel Tinsley, executive director, McCormack Baron Salazar Urban Initiatives, 1 March 2018; Document provided by Trivers Associates; Urban Strategies. 2012. “William T. Kemper Foundation Grant Request Application,” 5. Accessed 28 March 2018.

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Source:

Documents provided by McCormack Baron Salazar; Correspondence from Emily Scanlon, 14 and 26 March 2018; Urban Strategies. 2012. “William T. Kemper Foundation Grant Request Application,” 5. Accessed 28 March 2018; University City Children’s Center. n.d. “Our Story.” Accessed 28 March 2018.

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Source:

Interview with Mark Cross, 28 February 2018.

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Source:

Document provided by Trivers Associates; Interview with Laurel Tinsley, 1 March 2018.

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Source:

Interview with Laurel Tinsley, 1 March 2018; Jeanne L. Reid and Sharon Lynn Kagan. 2015. “A Better Start: Why Classroom Diversity Matters in Early Education,” 1–2. Accessed 28 March 2018; Interview with Mark Cross, 28 February 2018; University City Children’s Center. n.d. “Our Impact.” Accessed 28 March 2018; LUME Institute. n.d. “LUME’s Story.” Accessed 28 March 2018.

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