The New Year brings new life to an aging former grocery store as Head Start preschoolers from immigrant families move into renovated space on Beacon Hill.

Construction was completed in November on Denise Louie Education Center’s new Beacon Hill facility, which opened its doors to children, staff and parents Jan. 3. It replaces a leased church annex on south Beacon Hill and a single classroom within the Mount Baker Apartments.

Currently 181 children are enrolled across DLEC’s three sites, mostly from Chinese, Vietnamese, African and Spanish-speaking families.

Adapting the existing two-story building presented several challenges, said project architect Sally Knodell of Environmental Works, the nonprofit community design center. A sagging upper story, little room to expand to meet space requirements and a tight budget were just a few of the obstacles that were overcome during design and construction, Knodell said.

“We were really pinching inches on this project,” she said.

From the shell of the existing building were carved four kid-friendly classrooms with natural light pouring through two sets of windows. A central hall features kid-scale cubbies and closets and doubles as a gathering space with display space overhead. Birch plywood, bathroom and kitchen flooring made from sustainable products, and kid-height windows in classrooms are just a few touches made possible despite a small budget. Out on the play area, a curved track awaits tricycle riders.

The site is near a library branch, a fire station, Jefferson Park Golf Course, a future light rail station and other neighborhood features within walking distance.

The new building will also have dedicated space for parent education programs, a key element of DLEC’s outreach to families. Parent support groups, financial education seminars and English classes — always in high demand — are among the services provided through private grant funding.

The $2.2 million building was completely paid for by generous private donors and foundations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation who contributed to a capital campaign that raised sufficient project funds in only 20 months, meeting its goal in June 2005.

Named in honor of a young Chinese-American community volunteer who was killed tragically in 1977, the DLEC began its service in 1978 from the basement of the old Chinese Baptist Church, and has since become a mainstay of the refugee and immigrant communities in Seattle, serving more than 181 children annually, between the ages of three to five, from a variety of diverse backgrounds including: Asian, Pacific Islander, Latin American, South American, and East African. In order to promote success in school and community, the DLEC provides quality, multi-cultural early childhood education services to children and their families who live in the International District, Beacon Hill, and Rainier Beach communities.

DLEC contributed this article.

Grand Opening Celebration of New Beacon Hill home for Denise Louie’s Head Start program: Friday, Jan. 27 at 4 – 6 p.m. 3327 Beacon Ave. S., Seattle..

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