VIDEO: Early Learning Center in Shadow of New NGA West Wins National Award

By on May 12, 2017

An early childhood center built in the new NGA West project site neighborhood in north St. Louis, has won national recognition for its groundbreaking approach. The Flance Early Learning Center, which was built immediately adjacent to the former Pruitt Igoe site, was recognized last month by the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for a 2017 AIA/HUD Secretary’s Award in the Community-Informed Design category. Architect on the project was Trivers Associates.

The Flance Center, managed by Flance Management, is a project of Urban Strategies and St. Louis-based urban redeveloper McCormack Baron Salazar. Its vision is “to create a new paradigm in early childhood education that will serve as a model for creating a systemic change for children and families.”

The mixed-income model is integral to the ambition to create “systemic change.” The Flance Center is committed to serving “a racially, culturally, developmentally and socio-economically diverse population of children” while providing “supportive services to families,” according to its mission statement.


The center’s staff – it has 31 on-site employees, with 24 of them being teachers – has help in pursuing its ambitious, progressive mission. The LUME Institute has been a guiding presence from the beginning. LUME, which evolved from the University City Children’s Center, offers “systemic and comprehensive approaches to early childhood education that engage, impact and transform communities,” according to its mission statement.

The awards were presented at the American Institute of Architects Conference on Architecture, held April 27-29 in Orlando, Florida. Project Architect Emily Scanlon, AIA received the award, which recognizes design that supports physical communities as they rebuild social structures and relationships that may have been weakened by outmigration, disinvestment and the isolation of inner-city areas.

The Flance Early Learning Center was designed intentionally to help alter the course of one of the most impoverished zip codes in Missouri. This neighborhood has the lowest average household income in the City of St. Louis, the highest percentage of households living below the poverty line (26%), as well as the highest number of children ages 0-5 living in poverty.

The design process  included seven community meetings with public and private partners. These meetings included key community and neighborhood leaders, volunteers, as well as Urban Strategies, McCormack Baron Salazar, staff from facility operator University City Children’s Center and Trivers Associates. The focus of the meetings was  design and build a facility with extensive community input that addressed the needs of both the children and the neighborhood. The community room in the facility is the direct result of the recommendation of the community members who participated in the design process, and is placed at the most accessible point in the building to facilitate community dialog.

In a release, Trivers stated the design rationale behind the center: “the massing of the center allows the structure to “hug” the age-appropriate outdoor spaces. This provides an abstracted, organic-formed, tree-like façade which creates a shaded interstitial porch for each classroom’s direct outdoor access, critical to the pedagogy of the facility. Analogous to the dappling of light through a tree canopy, the use of perforated metal filters the light, shading the south and west facing glass further contributing to the facility’s pending LEED certification. The facility obtained a grant with MSD to create raingardens for parking lot run-off, an experiential natural playground, and two 2,500 gallon cisterns for water collection from the roof.

“The interior utilizes a more sophisticated yet strategically playful color palate which fills the space with light and energy while allowing the building to remain a canvas for children to create and learn. To educate parents on the high-value of dietary nourishment for their children, a full-service and demonstration kitchen was given significant visibility emphasizing the importance of dietary health and dining.”

The demonstration kitchen in new building is part of a healthy eating program,  funded in part by the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation. It includes gardening and healthy cooking classes for the students and their families.  It will include food grown directly from the center’s own garden, with the help of Urban Harvest.

The annual, national award recognizes just one project in each of four categories. This is the second HUD Secretary’s Award bestowed upon Trivers Associates in two years; 3010 Apartments was the recipient of the National Trust/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation in 2015. It is also the second AIA Award for the Flance Early Learning Center, which was recognized by AIA St. Louis with a Merit Award in the Architecture category.

About Tom Finan