CSU Early Childhood Center, Washington School celebrate historic milestones

Watch the video to learn more about what makes the ECC unique. Video by Allie Ruckman and Avery Martin.

two girls playing on the playground
Children play at the Early Childhood Center.

The Colorado State University Early Childhood Center made history in 2013 when it moved into the Poudre School District’s former Washington School. This year, the ECC is celebrating its 90th anniversary, as well as the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Washington School building.

To mark the rich history of both institutions and their impact on children’s lives, the Early Childhood Center invited the community to an open house at the ECC on Saturday, Sept. 7. See photos from the open house on the College of Health and Human Sciences flickr page.

Original location on Laurel

What is now the ECC in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies was launched as a summer preschool program in 1929 by the Department of Home Economics.

preschool Laurel
The preschool was first located at a house on Laurel Street.

The preschool was originally located at 212 W. Laurel St. in the building that is now occupied by the Rainbow Restaurant. In 1933, the preschool moved out of the Laurel location temporarily to 129 S. Meldrum St., but returned to the Laurel location in 1934 when it was the Home Economics Practice House.

As recorded in department history, the site on Laurel Street was a cheerful, sunny building, and the big porch was perfect for active play when it was too wet or cold to be outdoors. There was a large playground shaded by a beautiful tree, and the playground had easy access to the CSU Oval for trike rides, dance and swim classes in Ammons Hall, the Geology Building’s rock collection, and many other campus wonders. Just as today, the trains were a feature of campus. The children enjoyed watching the 11:20 a.m. passenger train to Cheyenne as it rolled by.

Location west of Ammons Hall

long one-story building
In 1936, the preschool laboratory moved to a location just west of Ammons Hall.

In 1936, the preschool moved to a building located directly west of Ammons Hall and east of the current entrance to the Lory Student Center parking lot. The building was built in 1908 as the Veterinary Hospital Annex – Pathology Laboratory, according to CSU historian Gordon “Hap” Hazard. It was one of several wooden buildings on the first Veterinary Hospital “complex” along West Laurel Street. The building was also the former location of the CSU apiary (bee hives), part of the Department of Entomology, according to an ECC history written by Dean Schachterle, retired general manager of CSU Central Receiving. The preschool remained at this location until 1972.

Marie Macy served as director of the Preschool Laboratory for 18 years, from 1955 to 1973. The school served as a learning lab for students in the College of Home Economics. The 22 children in the school attended from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day, and the staff at the preschool taught graduate and undergraduate classes in the afternoon. “Those years were certainly an invaluable and memorable opportunity for me to have been associated with such excellent students, children, parents, staff, and faculty,” she wrote. Learn more about Macy’s memories of her time at the Preschool Laboratory on her Legacies web page.

Move to the Gifford Building

black and white photo of Gifford
The preschool moved into the west end of the Gifford Building in 1976.

The building housing the lab school was torn down in 1973, and Rockwell Hall was the new location of the preschool starting in 1972, until it moved to a building in Aggie Village in 1974. In 1976, it was relocated to the west end of the new Gifford Building on campus, where it remained until moving to its current location in the Washington School in 2013. Barbara McCornack was the director of the Early Childhood Laboratories starting in 1979 until her retirement in 1996. The Gifford Building housed two half-day preschool programs, and the Village Child Care Center across the street was the home to a full-day program. Phyllis Sakarada was the long-time cook for the early childhood programs and prepared the lunches in the Gifford kitchen.

A toddler program was added in 1982, and the two programs were combined into one located in the Gifford Building. McCornack remembers that at one point, children from 20 different language backgrounds were enrolled, most of whom were children of CSU students, staff, or faculty. In fall of 1992, in collaboration with the Poudre School District, children with special needs were integrated into the morning classrooms. McCornack wrote about her experiences in the department history: “So many good memories and friendships were made with children, parents, staff, and student teachers, but what I’ll always cherish is the look in the eyes of a child who has discovered something new – that ‘a-ha’ experience that is at the heart of the teaching and learning experience.”

Historic Washington School

student with infant
The move to the Washington School building allowed the ECC to add infant care.

The Washington School location has allowed the ECC to greatly expand its childcare offerings to include space for infants and to remain open year round. The Washington School has its own rich history as part of the fabric of Fort Collins. It was built in 1919 to fill the need for more grade schools to serve the growing population. Paul Havenar worked for Poudre School District as a teacher and a principal. His first assignment as a principal in the district was in 1979 at the Washington School, where he remained until 1987. “It was a fun eight years,” he said. As a small school, Washington School was originally combined with Dunn Elementary and housed K-2. Some of the staff, including Havenar, was split between both schools.

building with no trees or homes around it
The Washington School around 1919.

There was originally an apartment in the basement for an onsite custodian for the school. Schachterle even recounts a story of a baby being born in the basement apartment in 1923 to the niece of the custodian and his wife. More recently, Washington School served as the site of the Lab School for Creative Learning in the Poudre School District. As the 21st century unfolded, the needed upgrades to the aging building became too expensive, and Poudre School District sold the building to CSU in 2011. It subsequently underwent extensive renovation before opening in 2013 as the ECC.

Through the many different locations, the mission and philosophy of the Early Childhood Center has remained constant: teaching, research, and service – involving students in observational and applied experiences with young children, providing a resource for faculty to conduct research, and serving the Fort Collins and CSU communities with high-quality early care and education. An outreach mission is also emphasized, and grant monies are available to help CSU student parents afford the cost of childcare.

“The importance of the first five years of life cannot be overstated,” said current ECC Executive Director Karen Rattenborg. “The ways that children are nurtured during this time are critical to their future health and development. This is why the Early Childhood Center is so beneficial. We not only support the development of the children in our care, we also train the next generation of professionals so that they can implement best practice for children and families.”

Each year, the ECC serves approximately 150 children (ages 6 weeks to 6 years) while simultaneously training more than 130 students from various departments across campus including Food Science and Human Nutrition, Human Development and Family Studies, Occupational Therapy, the School of Education, and the School of Music, Theatre and Dance.

“For 100 years, the Washington School has served a variety of purposes in different ways, but all educational, and now it serves the vital role as the home of the ECC,” said Havenar.

The Early Childhood Center is in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.