Three preschoolers play inside classroom

Expanded preschool

With joint support from the the University of Oregon

Willamalane Park and Recreation District is expanding its preschool program with the support of the University of Oregon. This partnership will help to address child care shortages in the Eugene/Springfield community and meet the increasing demand for high-quality early education.

The university will make a one-time investment of up to $500,000 that will allow Willamalane to build infrastructure that adds classrooms and enhances the preschool facilities at Bob Keefer Center. By expanding the physical infrastructure, Willamalane will be able to increase its enrollment, providing more children with access to reliable child care and essential early education opportunities.

“We are incredibly grateful to the University of Oregon for being a community partner who values the benefits of preschool education,” said Michael Wargo, Executive Director at Willamalane. “This expansion will allow us to serve more families in our community and provide them with the high-quality preschool that will prepare them for Kindergarten.”

“We are aware of the impact that limited access to child care services has on University of Oregon employees. In collaboration with United Academics, the union that represents UO faculty, we were able to find a creative solution to invest in the expansion of Willamalane’s existing programs increasing access to child care for both university employees and the broader community,” said Mark Schmelz, vice president and chief human resources officer at the University of Oregon. “This investment supports working parents while also increasing access to important educational opportunities.”

 Child care shortages have been an ongoing struggle for working families in Eugene and Springfield. Staffing and space limitations have been the primary barriers for child care providers to expand programs. The partnership between Willamalane and the University of Oregon will address some of the district’s space limitations while Willamalane will focus on maintaining necessary staffing to run these programs at full capacity. The expanded preschool program will also contribute to getting more kids ready to enter elementary school. With better classrooms, improved kitchen and restroom facilities, and new classroom amenities, the enhanced infrastructure will create an optimal learning environment for preschool-aged children.

“One of the single biggest predictors of young children’s school readiness is access to quality early education,” said Laura Lee McIntyre, dean of the College of Education and Castle-McIntosh-Knight Professor. “Early education sets the stage for future learning by providing opportunities for children to interact with adults and peers, navigate the social world, and learn foundational skills necessary for later schooling.”

The preschool expansion project is expected to be completed by September 2024.

About Willamalane

Willamalane Park and Recreation District is responsible for maintaining and operating recreation facilities, community centers, pools, parks, trails, and natural areas in Springfield. In addition, the district provides recreational activities, volunteer opportunities, child care, and recreational activities that are accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Created by voters in 1944, Willamalane is a special tax district, separate from the city of Springfield, governed by a five-member, elected board of directors and managed by an executive director. In 2022, Willamalane earned CAPRA accreditation, which signifies that the organization’s overall quality of operations, management, and service to the community are aligned with industry best practices.