FLORENCE, S.C. – In just nine days, the R.N. Beck Learning Center will open its doors for the first time to 150 students.

“Just having it happen is like a dream come true,” said Floyd Creech, director of school readiness. “To have this high quality of a child-care center, I mean it will be the best child-care center in Florence. I mean by far the best facility, and we’re planning for it to be the best place to be.”

Richard O’Malley, superintendent of Florence One Schools, and Creech hosted a tour of the new facility for the Morning News Friday morning.

After an almost three-year long process, the early learning center will open to students on Monday, Aug. 19, and teachers start back Monday, Aug. 12.

Creech said during the tour that teachers have been setting up their classrooms before their first day. The faculty and staff members are still settling into the building.

The 36,000-square-foot building at 1001 W. Sumter St. will house 16 classrooms. About a third of those will be special education classes, Creech said. Each classroom will have a restroom, a storage facility and a teacher’s office, he said.

Classes will use either Montessori or HighScope curriculums, and the center will have speech and occupational therapists, as well as a sensory room.

Creech said the playground will be finished in three weeks and will be accessible to children with handicaps, including a climbing gym, swings and a slide.

“To me it is almost surreal,” Creech said. “I’ve never worked in a school that is this secure and done up. It’s like we were always trying to do it up with my own little can of paint.”

Creech said students will eat in their classrooms each day, and Chartwells, the district’s food service provider, has made it easy for the early learning center to do this.

Tracie Hobbs, a special education teacher at the R.N. Beck Learning Center, said it felt wonderful to move into her classroom at the facility.

“I think I can speak for everyone – the teachers and staff,” Hobbs said. “We are just beyond thrilled and feel so immensely blessed and thankful to be able to offer our students a chance to learn in the state-of-the-art learning environment.”

Hobbs said the classrooms in the early learning center are larger in size, which allows the children to have more room to move, communicate and learn. She also said it is exciting for all of the teachers to have bathrooms and access to water in the classrooms.

“They have just created a wonderful learning environment for the children; it’s beautiful,” Hobbs said.

The project was 13 months behind schedule when O’Malley came to the district. O’Malley said the district hired new construction managers and expedited the process.

“It’s been a long road,” O’Malley said. “There’ve been a lot of people trying to help us get this done.”

Porter Stewart, chairman of the Florence One Schools Board of Trustees, said he is gratified to see the Beck Center opening.

“I’m very happy that it will be a facility that can serve in the community and in the northwest community for many years to come,” Stewart said. “I look forward to the opportunities it will provide to serve the early childhood educational needs of those families, and serve as a resource of the community and as a gathering place as well.”

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