North Kansas City Schools Early Education Center

  • area / size 112,000 sqft
  • Completed 2021
  • DLR Group was tasked with converting an empty space into an imaginative environment for young learners at North Kansas City Schools’ Early Education Center in Gladstone, Missouri.

    A space that was once a vacant Hobby Lobby and grocery store is now the catalyst to unlocking the joy of learning for nearly 1,000 North Kansas City preschool students. It provides a unique environment for the district’s youngest learners while giving its educators and administrators the tools to succeed. The early education center is aptly located in the center of North Kansas City Schools, a direct reflection of a community that has entrenched itself as relentless champions for all learners.

    To break down the scale of the big box store footprint, the school includes seven neighborhoods – each rooted in a different biophilic theme as well as associated color. Not only does this help with wayfinding but allows learners (and educators) to feel they have a smaller community within the greater whole of the campus.

    Each neighborhood is comprised of four to six classrooms depending on the needs of the students in the neighborhood. They feature their own library and shared areas, including restrooms, storage, and swing spaces. Each neighborhood also features discovery zones, providing space for breakout sessions and additional sensory learning that occurs beyond the classroom.

    With limited space on the site, outdoor play environments are positioned along the main facade of the building. Not only does this soften the otherwise hard edge of parking and big box store, but it also creates an experience as users enter the building and hear the noise of learners playing outside.

    To afford the maximum opportunities for all, each playground provides slightly different amenities. The smallest of the three is geared toward more special needs learners with more sensory focused play equipment, while the other two focus on gross motor and kinesthetic development.

    Environmental graphics throughout the facility link the various biophilic themes in the pods into one cohesive facility. This experience, designed to be like the user is walking through a storybook, was quite literally translated into a storybook for young learners.

    Whether digital or physical, this book allows users to familiarize themselves with the environment before ever attending school here and identify objects on the walls that they have seen in their storybook. Whether practicing colors, numbers, or animals, the graphics afford an opportunity to use the space as a learning tool.

    Like any other school in the district, the early education center needed a logo and mascot.

    The brand identity needed to be simple, recognizable, and ultimately one that resonated with kids more than adults. As one of the themes in the building, a butterfly emerged as the symbol of growth and development – from a little caterpillar to a beautiful butterfly.

    Design: DLR Group
    Photography: Michael Robinson