Unique preschool to open in former Portland elementary school

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PORTLAND — With a new location, a private preschool that admits children with and without special needs hopes to expand its program offerings.

The Children’s Odyssey Preschool, a nonprofit founded in 1992, is moving into the former Reed Elementary School on Homestead Avenue later this summer following a total renovation of the building.

On June 23, Children’s Odyssey will hold live and silent auctions at the Portland Elks Lodge and Event Center, 1945 Congress St., to help raise the approximately $60,000 needed to complete the move, including outfitting classrooms with a variety of special equipment.

At its current location on Davis Farm Road in North Deering, the preschool’s programming options were limited, according to Director Susan Hougaz-McCormick.

But in its new home, Children’s Odyssey plans to establish an infant-toddler program, expand classroom sizes and extend programming hours to accommodate working parents, she said.

The preschool serves 68 children, but with the larger, 16,500-square-foot space it could accommodate up to 124, according to Hougaz-McCormick.

The mission of Children’s Odyssey, she said, is to “successfully integrate children with special needs and the general preschool population, while (also) promoting respect and awareness for individual differences.”

Along with additional programming space, Hougaz-McCormick said the move to the former Reed School will also allow the preschool to “accommodate larger science, dramatic play, library, quiet, manipulative, sensory, and block areas.”

The move will also give the preschool the opportunity to create an indoor room for gross motor skills to address sensory and motor challenges, along with providing additional speech, occupational, and physical therapy rooms.

In addition, Hougaz-McCormick said, “We will also be able to offer the Portland school system two classrooms in which to house its public pre-K, part of (a) universal pre-kindergarten initiative.”

The Portland Public Schools closed Reed five years ago and turned the 1920s-era building over to the city, which then held a public input process to determine the best reuse for the structure.

Two years ago the Portland City Council gave approval for Developers Collaborative to breathe new life into the two-story, 34,000-square-foot building on 2.5 acres in the Riverton neighborhood.

Hougaz-McCormick said her preschool is special because “our emphasis (is) on the whole child. We teach with the understanding that diversity of culture, background, gender, and physical or cognitive ability is a strength to be celebrated and respected.”

“What is so amazing about (our) preschoolers is that they are incredibly accepting of one another. They take each other’s differences in stride,” she said.

“It’s this capacity of preschoolers to be observant about differences, yet remain appreciative, compassionate, non-judgmental, and accepting that became one of the cornerstones of Children’s Odyssey’s philosophical foundation,” Hougaz-McCormick added.

Currently, she said, Children’s Odyssey is leasing the Reed School from the Developers Collaborative, but the goal is for the preschool to eventually own the building.

A ribbon-cutting celebration is scheduled for Aug. 9, and opening day is scheduled for Sept. 5, Hougaz-McCormick said.

“At the risk of sounding cliche, it really does take a village to raise our children,” she said of asking for the public’s help with Children’s Odyssey fundraising.

“Of course we need the financial support to furnish the classrooms and the playgrounds, yet the auction is only the beginning. We would love for community members to become involved (and) volunteer to share a hobby or talent or read to the children.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The historic former Reed Elementary School on Homestead Avenue in Portland’s Riverton neighborhood will become home to a private preschool later this summer.