Old schoolhouse becomes place of learning again
By WILFORD S. SHAMLIN
An Atlantic County man ignored the skeptics and moved forward with his ambitious plan to renovate the old, boarded-up Westville Grove School into a state-of-the-art preschool just east of Route 47, near bordering Westville.
The Early Learning Academy, which Brian Condella designed with his 3-year-old daughter Bria in mind, opened in September.
Condella already has received kudos from school officials for transforming an aging school building that was deemed too costly for the district to renovate.
"It was good for him and it was good for us," said Kenneth Kling, school board business administrator. "I think we both made out on the deal."
"He put some major money into it, I can tell you that. You can see that. He didn't spare any expense on it. He did a real nice job with it," Kling said.
During a recent tour, Condella confessed: "There's nothing in here that we didn't go to the max on."
"I had people saying I couldn't do this and some people who saw the light and saw that we could. It was a Herculean effort, that's for sure," Condella said.
The two-story brick building at 20 Cobblestone Road was being used by the district's child-study team, which works with special education students, when it was shut down. The school district sold the school and used the money to renovate the ground-level floor of the central administration building for the child-study team, which had 12 full-time employees at the time.
Meanwhile, Westville Grove School had became a hangout for teens after dark and was vandalized before being purchased by BC Rental Properties LLC of Linwood, which Condella owns.
After purchasing the building from the Deptford Board of Education for $205,000 in 2006, Condella had originally intended to convert the old school into a medical offices building and rent space to physical therapists and medical professionals.
But after walking the property, Condella believed that a preschool was a more suitable use.
The school is licensed to accommodate 162 students from six weeks old to 5 years old. Condella describes the staff, led by director Margaret Culbreath Carasquillo, who has more than 20 years of day-care management experience, as highly experienced and certified. "I have teachers here who have director's credentials," Condella said.
Some innovative ideas that were incorporated into the design include:
CrispAir fluorescent light bulbs that remove dust, bacteria and other pollutants in the air. "It keeps kids from getting allergies," Condella said. "Anything that's going to keep kids healthy is always a plus."
Tinted shades that block most ultraviolet rays filtering through the window.
Touch-screen computer at front entrance allows parent to punch in their child's identification code for daily reports. They can find out when tuition is due, review remarks about their child's behavior and attendance record. It can also be used for payroll and in emergencies, sending data to a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) about who's in the building, who should be in the building and who shouldn't.
Separate play areas for younger and older children; all on artificial turf with padding beneath to cushion falls and extra padding in the "fall zone" around the jungle gym. It's free of lead, natural grass, allergens or dirt. "It passed all state criteria. It could pour rain out here and five minutes later, kids can be out here running around," Condella said.
Entire facility has been declared "peanut-free zone" due to children's allergic reactions.
Bring-your-own-lunch arrangement. Parents feed their children what they want them to eat.
Two-inch layer of foam acts as insulation from outside elements, blocking moisture and mold.
Computer pods allow parents to check what tasks their child completed during the day and allows them to provide input and interact with the child.
Fire suppression system installed but not required.
Security cameras around exterior of property, at front entrance and in classrooms.
Reach Wilford S. Shamlin at (856) 486-2475 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Early Learning Academy is at 20 Cobblestone Road, Deptford. Call (856) 853-8822 or visitwww.theearlylearningacademy.com