Earlywood to be razed for future Franklin preschool

With Earlywood Educational Services set to permanently close next Monday, Franklin Community School Corp. is gearing up to take responsibility for the building.

Earlywood’s board, consisting of superintendents from six school districts in Johnson, Bartholomew and Shelby counties, voted unanimously to dissolve the service center in March 2023, citing concerns about maintenance issues that stem from the building’s architecture. The school in Franklin provided services for special education students at Franklin, Greenwood, Edinburgh, Indian Creek, Southwestern Consolidated and Flat Rock-Hawcreek schools.

While just 20 to 25 students were receiving services in the Earlywood building itself, thousands of students with individualized education plans, or IEPs, received assistance from Earlywood employees at their school buildings in areas such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech pathology, visual impairment and mental and behavioral health. Some of the 78 employees were offered positions in Johnson County schools or contracted services that the schools will share.

The school district now plans to turn the former Earlywood building into a preschool. As part of the agreement, Franklin Community Schools will also assume business responsibilities such as record-keeping and issuing tax statements.

Once Franklin assumes ownership, staff will clean out the last bits of furniture and materials and transport them to their new homes, then the building will be demolished, said David Clendening, Franklin superintendent.

The existing building has a unique architectural design, with landscaping going up its slanted walls. The design, originally meant to prevent damage from tornadoes, has led to maintenance issues and leaks. The cost to rebuild the exterior of the structure was deemed to be too much to justify keeping the building open and is the reason why it will be razed.

The cost to “bring it up to speed,” was prohibitive. It would have been several million dollars, Clendening said.

“If we’re going to build a preschool in that area, we’re going to build it like we want and we’re not going to remodel that. So we’re taking the entire building structure to the ground and then we’ll build back on top,” Clendening said.

The Franklin school board approved an appropriation last week to purchase and demolish the building for $700,000. The purchase of the school will cost $345,095 and the demolition was quoted at $281,500. The board opted to approve the amount above the quoted amount in case demolition costs are higher than expected, they said.

The demolition is expected to start within six months to a year in late fall or early spring, Clendening said. The building has not been designed and there is no timeline for when the preschool will open, he said.

Right now, Franklin’s preschool is housed in three of their elementary buildings. As preschool spaces fill up, elementary building space is running out. Creating a new preschool building will centralize classes, which will be advantageous for teacher collaboration and communication with parents, Clendening said.

“There are too many kids and not enough spaces,” Clendening said. “So we want to be able to be the provider that parents look to to help grow their kids and that was another area that we felt like we could step in and close the gap.”

The other advantage of a standalone preschool is opening up space in the elementary buildings, he said. As more homes are built in Franklin and around old town Bargersville, space is becoming more of a premium.

On the final day of operations, Earlywood staff will celebrate their achievements over the last 50 years.