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Jackson Christian School - Jackson, Tennessee
By: Jennifer Walker - Journey

Jackson, Tennessee, is not considered a large community. Its population hovers around 60,000. However, that doesn’t mean people in Jackson don’t deal with the same “real world” problems as those in larger towns, which is why Jackson Christian School (JCS) has put so much focus in educating and instilling in its students the best values and the ability to understand who they are and where they fit into God’s creation.

JCS was founded in 1976 in the Central Church of Christ building with 56 students enrolled in grades 1-8. Three years later, it moved to a 28-acre campus and enrollment grew. Class offerings soon expanded to include preschool through 12th grade, with the preschool located offsite at Campbell Street Church of Christ.

As the school looked at how it could better prepare its students – especially its youngest ones – for the future, it identified the need to expand its Kindergarten classes to include a more rigorous curriculum. In order to meet this goal, the current facility needed to expand. Suddenly, JCS was faced with a new and exciting challenge – how to design an area that would be warm and inviting to these young students but also give them a taste of the real world.

The idea was not to just build a new wing on to the school, but to create a building around the special programs and curriculum that would be taught there, said Dr. Rick Brooks, president of JCS. School leadership hired general contractor John Mauney of Trussmark, Inc. to develop the design-build plan and Jerry Hartsfield of TLM Associates architects to create the planned design. Dr. Brooks also gave the teachers a voice.

“More than most projects, this was truly a group effort. Given that we wanted the facility to be both attractive and functional, we allowed our teachers to drive much of the decision making,” he said. “We felt this was the best way to ensure that we created a facility and a program that reinforced each other.”

There were basic needs for the new building: additional classrooms, a kitchen, a multipurpose room for chapel and indoor play, a computer lab, and office space. There was some discussion to make the building a separate structure, but after careful consideration, it was deemed far more economical to have it attached to the existing building.

“Separate structures would necessitate duplication of staff and services,” Mauney said. “By connecting to the existing building, the new Early Living Village can use the existing cafeteria and the existing elementary classes, as well as the new multi-purpose room in the new wing.”

When designing the new wing, “We carefully considered the topography and traffic flow to find the best fit,” Mauney said.

The group decided on an L-shaped wing to accommodate a new traffic lane to a covered drop-off area and to maximize visibility for safety. This design also afforded a prefect area just outside the wing for an age-appropriate playground.

Though the wing would be attached to the existing building, school leadership wanted it to have a its own personality. With the assistance of Trussmark, the village theme came to light. Artist Victor Moore was commissioned to paint village scenes throughout the building, such as a bakery, town hall, and doctor’s office. Soon, the vision of the Early Learning Village was coming together just as beautifully as the concept for the curriculum that would be taught there.

And, so was funding. Thanks to a generous donation from a local family, JCS had its seed money. The donation came from The Tyler Family; Kathryn and her late husband Lancaster were longtime benefactors of JCS and gave $1 million to fund the project. It was quickly matched through the school’s Seeing 20/20 capital campaign.

By July 2008, JCS was ready to start construction on its new 12,400-square-foot Early Learning Center with hopes to have it open for classes by the second half of the 2008-2009 school year. This meant the work had to be completed before Christmas break so that teachers and staff could move in and be ready for classes when the break was over. This presented a challenge to the construction team, but there seemed to be a higher power pushing them toward the goal.

“We were blessed to have good weather,” Mauney said.

He credits JSC for having one source responsible for the design, budget, and construction of the project. This, he said, allowed all parties to communicate and make decisions quickly and more efficiently, which was critical to making the schedule.

As planned, construction was completed, and, shortly after the second semester began, the school held an opening ceremony. It named the new wing the Linda Tyler Early Learning Village after the deceased daughter of its largest benefactors.

JCS already has reaped the benefits of building its new facility.

“There is a wonderful reinforcing effect,” Dr. Brooks said. “The facility creates a wonderful environment from which our academic programs can build. Our children are provided with built-in daily object lessons from which to begin understanding life, learning, and community.”

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