The Paducah Independent School District announced Thursday that it will receive $14.5 million in grant funding to build a new preschool center for Paducah Head Start.

The grants came around the same time as the federal Disaster Relief Act provided $55 million in emergency funding for Head Start programs with damage directly related to hurricanes Florence and Michael and flooding from 2017 to 2019.

“We did have substantial flooding in our Head Start building (on South Sixth Street) during that time,” Paducah Head Start Director Kristy Lewis said. “The cost to repair this building and the cost to renovate would exceed the value of this building.”

Lewis said the new building will be about 50,000 square feet and will have state-of-the-art features.

“It will have 16 classrooms, a homeless and transitional (students workers’) office space and washers and dryers for families,” she said. “It will also have our normal family advocate space, meeting room and parent training center, and computers for families to engage in helping them complete job applications and training.”

The building will include a sensory room and a STEAM classroom for preschoolers where they can learn grade-appropriate lessons on science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Work space also will be available for optometrist Jennifer Gibson and pediatric dentist Beverly Largent to do routine visits. Gibson does an annual eye exam, and Largent comes in twice a year.

Lewis said there will be an indoor gross motor dramatic play room that will allow the community to partner with Head Start. It will be called “Our Town: Paducah City.” It is a play area that looks like a miniature town.

“It’s not set in stone yet, but this will be a way that our community will be able to partner with us, to have their business or representation in our building as well,” she said. “The idea behind that is that, for example, CFSB bank could partner with us, and one of the buildings in the growth motor area could be the CFSB bank.”

The building will have two playgrounds: one commercial, similar to what is seen at a park, and one that will be a natural playground area with gardens and vegetation.

A location for the center has not been selected yet by the PISD board, but the goal is to have it near Paducah Tilghman High School and the Paducah Innovation Hub.

“I’m thinking that we will be able to have our students in the center at night, maybe, with some child care services and family engagement activities while one of the parents is over at the Innovation Hub learning a skill or gaining more knowledge in something that they have an interest in,” Lewis said.

“Also, being able to have a career pathway for students at Tilghman who want to go into education, they can come and work on their child development associate’s degree right there at our building. We can have those classrooms and pathways so we can kind of grow our own (educators).”

The new center will have observation windows for classrooms where prospective students — possibly from West Kentucky Community and Technical College or Murray State University — can watch classes in action without disrupting the Head Start students.

Lewis said the goal is to have classrooms open to students in two years.

The district applied for two separate grant funds, one that was received last week and the $13 million grant that was received Thursday.

“I’m excited,” Lewis said. “I’m even more excited for the children and families in our community.”

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