Groundbreaking ceremony for new learning center in Columbia

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COLUMBIA - Columbia Public Schools held a groundbreaking ceremony Monday afternoon for an early childhood learning center.

The learning center is located on Smiley Lane next to Lange Middle School.

Columbia Public Schools expects the building to open to students in January 2017.

Laura Martinez lives near the learning center and said she thinks it's a nice addition to Columbia's education system.

"Children have a hard time learning a lot at home, so the greatest thing about that is that they get a chance to learn and be with other kids,"Martinez said. "Socialization of the children is really important, particularly early on."

Columbia Public Schools' Michelle Baumstark said the learning center is designed for kids with special needs and really focuses on developing their literacy early on. 

"We have a growing need for quality early childhood programming in our community," Baumstark said. "We have a waiting list for out Title 1 preschool program. We're always looking for additional space and opportunity to be able to serve our students who have special needs that need early childhood education, as well as to be able to provide quality space for classes and for interaction with parents and teachers program."

The building will feature seven early childhood special education classrooms, ten Title 1 preschool classrooms and eight speech therapy classrooms.

Baumstark said the learning center cost about $9.5 million.