Buffalo Promise Neighborhood

Buffalo Promise Children's Academy

The Foundation For Achievement

Childhood education center provides ‘cradle-to-career’ support.

  • Designed To Excite

    The building sets the stage for visitors to get the resources they need.

  • Outdoor Canopy

    A large canopy shades outdoor play equipment.

  • Just-In-Time Delivery

    There was no space to store construction materials, so they were delivered as needed.

A New Path Forward

Health and Education Build Futures

The statistics on reading proficiency are stark: A student who can't read on grade level by third grade is four times less likely to graduate high school by age 19 than one who can. And a student who lives in poverty is 13 times less likely to graduate on time than a proficient, wealthier peer.

These disparities, highlighted in a 2011 study by sociology professor Donald J. Hernandez of Hunter College of City University of New York, have the attention of the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The ED has developed a program to help students and families in high-poverty communities. In 2010, the ED awarded its first round of Promise Neighborhoods planning grants to 21 communities across the country.

Of those 21 communities, six were selected to receive implementation grants and become the nation’s first Promise Neighborhoods sites. One of the six was Buffalo Promise Neighborhood (BPN), an organization focusing on a community in the northeastern corner of Buffalo, New York. A neighborhood with approximately 800 children, nearly double the citywide neighborhood average, it struggled with high poverty rates and low high school graduation rates.

BPN intended to revitalize the neighborhood by building a pipeline  of “cradle-to-career” support, rooted in academic achievement for children and families. The beginning of that pipeline was to be the BPN Children’s Academy, a brand new early childhood education center serving neighborhood children ages 5 and younger.

In its grant proposal, BPN outlined needs in education and primary health care to improve the quality of life for its residents. Because the neighborhood already has two elementary schools and a high school, the grant team focused on an early childhood center for medical care and educational development opportunities for young children to prepare them for elementary school.

Throughout the grant process, Yvonne Minor-Ragan, president of BPN, also emphasized the need for resources for adults and parents in the community.

“The goal of the building was to prepare our students starting at 6 weeks old and serve them until they reach 4 years of age to make them kindergarten-ready. We also appealed to parents by providing parenting, education and quality of life classes focusing on financial stability to ensure that they were being enriched along with their students.”

Yvonne Minor-Ragan, BPN

Building Trust Through Efficiency

When the local general contractor on the project had trouble kick-starting the early childhood center project, he reached out to his former employer — LBM Construction, Inc. of Orchard Park, New York — for help. LBM, a Career Butler Builder®, arranged for principal project manager John Myers to meet with the design team in Buffalo. Within 48 hours, Myers modeled a three-unit framing layout with section arrangements, shared it with the design team and received immediate approval to advance to the next step, breathing life into a languishing project.

“Often, organizations and agencies come into communities like this and make promises to get the people excited that change is coming, but ultimately fail to execute on those promises. Empty promises and delays lead to distrust, so it was imperative that we showed the community that BPN was serious about its mission.”

Yvonne Minor-Ragan, BPN

Fresh Look On The Block

Because the early childhood center was the first new neighborhood construction in 20 years, representatives from BPN requested that its design differ from the typical style common in the neighborhood. LBM’s compliance featured sloped roofs to serve as a visual signal of change and opportunity.

Minor-Ragan believes visualization affects the psyche. She stressed how important it was for people to feel excited when they entered the new facility, assured they could find resources as well as a place for their children to learn valuable skills.  Excitement hits visitors immediately thanks to large, playful, colored windows on the street that connect children with the city, while the classrooms have direct views and openings to the play yard, linking children to nature.

To meet functional needs, the building design featured multiple rooms with ample windows used as classrooms and offices for health care needs. The facility also required ample playground space, so the Butler solution included a large outdoor canopy to protect children from the elements. Because of the proximity of the neighboring building, the design included ThermalSafe® wall panels for one-hour fire protection.

“Butler did a fabulous job with the detailing and preorder aid process. Given the many unique details of the building (overhangs, valley gutters, soffits), our team helped immensely by presenting to the architect quickly, which sped up the approvals.”

John Myers, LBM Construction, Inc. 

Space and timing also were key considerations throughout the building process. The small footprint meant the build site had to be expertly navigated. Unlike many construction sites, there wasn’t excess space available to store materials, so LBM organized the various subcontractors and emphasized the importance of fast-tracking tasks — when materials arrived, they needed to be used immediately. Because Butler® products are precision engineered to fit together, construction moved faster without much material waste. In addition, they were diligent in clearing the snow regularly to lessen weather exposure and optimize space during the harsh Buffalo winter.

“LBM built what we wanted and was able to do it in a short amount of time, which enabled us to complete the building and open it in 10 months. LBM delivered on time and definitely met our specifications.”

Yvonne Minor-Ragan, BPN

Promise Fulfilled

After one year of operation, the BPN Children’s Academy and its staff already are seeing results. In June — 10 months after the building’s August 2013 opening — 98 percent of the children who attended the center finished pre-kindergarten with age-appropriate readiness, and they entered kindergarten this fall prepared to succeed.

“When people walk in the building, you feel their emotion and can tell they are excited to be in this airy and colorful building.”

Yvonne Minor-Ragan, BPN

Parents also are receiving workforce preparedness courses, GED course training and job training skills at the center. The future is bright for the neighborhood.