Pickwick addition construction

Construction on the expansion of Pickwick Early Childhood Education Center is moving ahead of schedule, according to the district superintendent and CFO. It is projected to be open for the 2021-22 school year and adds 10 classrooms and two shared spaces.

OTTUMWA — Despite being the newest building in the Ottumwa school district, the Pickwick Early Childhood Education Center is in the midst of expansion.

The need for the addition was first raised in the summer of 2019, just after the preschool completed its first year of operations. The building ran at capacity in 2018-19, said former Superintendent Nicole Kooiker at the time.

Beginning in its second year, the program expanded so much there was a need to move two classrooms into Douma Elementary School.

“We are still having to use room at Douma,” said Superintendent Mike McGrory this week. Being new this year, he said he was surprised at how quickly the addition was needed. “To have that need that quickly indicates how successful [the preschool program] is.”

District CFO John Berg said the process of building the new addition has moved quickly. “Discussions about the addition started in early 2019 once the enrollment numbers continued to grow and they quickly got to capacity,” he said. “The prior board wanted to move forward with the addition.

“They broke ground June 1 and have been moving right along. They’ve had some good weather since they’ve started.”

Both McGrory and Berg said the project is ahead of schedule. “It was projected to be complete for the next school year, 2021-22, so it looks like not only will that not be a problem, but we’re ahead of schedule,” McGrory said.

“We’re a little ahead of schedule which is good in this season where the weather gets a little more unpredictable,” Berg said.

The addition adds about 20,000 square feet, including 10 classrooms and two shared spaces, the CFO said, with estimates of it being able to hold 150-200 students. “Some of the capacity guidelines change depending on age,” he said.

“The structure will follow the same kind of motif to complement the rest of the current building, so it will have very similar features to our current building,” McGrory said, including the pod setup.

“The original building was designed to easily accept an addition in the case the board decided it was needed,” Berg said.

The estimated cost for the addition is $5.1 million and is being paid for with the district’s SAVE funds, which comes from the sales tax school penny. “We’re able to do it without any change to citizen property tax. That’s always a plus,” Berg said. “When the bids came in for the project, they were lower than expected.”

Enrollment at the school continues to grow. “The enrollment at the preschool level has increased each year since Pickwick has opened,” he said.

McGrory said Pickwick is off to a good start for the 2020-21 school year. While no final enrollment numbers are available yet, “What we’re finding is our enrollment was fairly good to start the year and we’ve added a number of students each week since school’s started,” he said.

That indicates some parents wanted to hold off on enrollment to see how the start of the school year went in the district, especially at the 3-year-old level, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Pickwick’s had a great start to the school year, and we appreciate all the efforts from the building’s people to ensure that great start,” McGrory said. “We’re excited about the future there.”

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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