Educare Arizona, an early-childhood preschool designed to give a leg up to at-risk children, opened on the campus of the Brunson Lee Elementary School in Phoenix.

Photo by Tom Spitz
Four buildings cluster around a large central courtyard play environment, serving 191 children from low-income families.
Image courtesy Urban Earth Design
The project's unique landscaping includes both edible gardens, shade trees, hummingbird and butterfly habitat and children's play fields.

Located on 48th and Culver streets, just south of McDowell Road, the $9-million, science-based school serves approximately 191 mostly at-risk infants, toddlers and preschoolers from the low- to moderate-income community served by the Balsz Elementary School District. As a community center, it also provides educational opportunities for college-bound young people and adults.

The 10-acre site includes three age-appropriate playgrounds at the perimeter of a 30,900-sq-ft building complex, stormwater retention areas and updates to the elementary school grounds.

Four buildings cluster around a large central courtyard play environment that also serves as the primary circulation between the buildings. A 12,320-sq-ft school administration building connects to a 2,521-sq-ft community health center operated by Scottsdale HealthCare. Three 7,500-sq-ft classroom buildings are accessible from the main building and courtyard via portals. All of the buildings are composed of 7.25-in. masonry-unit bearing walls with a brick veneer finish and a steel-structure roof.

Designed by RDG Planning & Design of Omaha and built by the Tempe office of Sundt Construction, the campus includes eco-landscape design by Urban Earth Design Landscape Architects of Phoenix and installation by AAA Landscaping, Phoenix. The design team also included Alvine Engineering, MEP engineer, Omaha; A.V. Schwan & Associates, structural engineer, Scottsdale; and Hilgart Wilson, civil engineer, Phoenix.

The project required six months of pre-construction and 10 months of construction, despite the challenges of working on an existing school site and coordinating utility shutdowns affecting its continuing operations, says Ed Mullins, Sundt’s project manager.

As the first Educare school built in Arizona, the project was funded by donors including the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, George Kaiser Family Foundation, the Virginia G. Piper Trust, the Steele Foundation, Southwest Human Development, the Steve Nash Foundation, Arizona Community Foundation, the IBIS Foundation, the Whiteman Foundation and the Balsz Elementary School District. 

The project is targeting LEED-Silver certification. “Going green has always been the goal of the board of directors of Educare Arizona,” John Whiteman, co-founder, co-chair and vice president-treasurer of Phoenix-based Whiteman Foundation. “Sustainable environment goes hand in hand with the learning goals of helping children reach their full potential.”

Working to narrow the achievement gap between at-risk children and their more advantaged peers, Educare has built 12 prior projects nationwide in as many years, and is planning another dozen.

“From the outset, Educare wanted to demonstrate excellence in environmental design,” says Michael Dollin, principal of Urban Earth Design.  “The local context of the environment of the school is known for its poor environmental conditions. This was an opportunity to build better, more responsibly. As it is an educational and health facility, it made sense to design this project as a learning and healing place, a healthy new center for a fragmented community.”