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A spirit that is not afraid

Auburn University Early Learning Center to be knocked down for new dorms

The Early Learning Center is scheduled to be knocked down to make way for student housing. Photo by Daniel Schmidt
The Early Learning Center is scheduled to be knocked down to make way for student housing. Photo by Daniel Schmidt

In 1939, the Auburn University Early Learning Center (AUELC) was built on the Haley Concourse. Since then, the Learning Center has served as a dormitory for females on campus, a nursery school, and now, a place where any child in the Auburn community can grow through interactive learning. 

However, the Early Learning Center is no longer going to be located in the center of Auburn's campus. The historic building is being torn down in order to build more dorms at a convenient spot on campus. 

"It's funny because at first I was completely broken hearted and sad because I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere else," said Sharon Wilbanks, the director of the Auburn University Early Learning Center. "It's like this has been home. I feel very territorial ... but as it's becoming evident that our building is very old and it is needing to come down." 

Wilbanks has been involved with the Early Learning Center since she started graduate school in 1993. Wilbanks became the director in 2008 and was a teacher at the AUELC for 12 years prior. She compared leaving this building to sending your children off to college. 

"It's a happy sad," Wilbanks said. "There's a real sense of history being lost."

Hannah Jacobsen, intern at the Early Learning Center, said AUELC isn't like other early learning schools.

"We don't have worksheets. It's all play-based, which is what I love about it because children learn through play," she said. "We encourage a lot of independence and positivity. I know that [parents and families] are bummed because this is right in the middle of campus. Everything is right around us." 

The new building will be smaller than the current building because it is only one story compared to two stories with a full basement. Jacobsen said she isn't sure how the new building will affect class sizes. Despite the loss in storage space, the AUELC will be adding a 2-year-old class once they have relocated. 

On April 9 from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., the Early Learning Center hosted its annual "Fun Day" for the Auburn community. This is usually a day where parents can come and celebrate what their children have done over the year; however, Fun Day was open to the entire community this year due to the relocation. 

"Families can come and reminisce because a lot of parents went here as kids and now their kids are going here," Jacobsen said. 

During the celebration, children and families could enjoy face painting, cookies, chalk, treasure hunts and all sorts of fun before they have to say goodbye to such a historic building.

"This is our last big hoorah before the building goes," Jacobsen said. "So, it's important that everyone has an opportunity to say goodbye." 

The goal is to be completely moved into the new building by the fall 2022 semester. The AUELC is not the only building being taken down to build more dorms. The strip of buildings along the side of the Haley Concourse is all being torn down, and a new housing complex will go up over the next 2 to 3 years. 

"One of the preferred sites [for the new dorm building] was along the Haley Concourse because the Quad Center is sort of an iconic residence hall. It is one of the highest demands from a location standpoint, from housing, it is right in the middle [of campus]..." said University Architect, Simon Yendle. "Having some new kind of housing in that location was desired by the Board of Trustees."  

Yendle explained how the new dorms will be very similar to the Quad. However, there will be a few changes. The new building was described to have the same typical "freshman double" layout. Meaning, there will be two people to a room and four people to a bathroom. 

"It is just a more modern interpretation of what the Quad is," Yendle said. 

Next fall, you will be able to find the Early Learning Center next to Jordan Hare in the renovated Dawson Building. 

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