The road to construct a dedicated building for the Center for Creative Education (CCE) has been a long and bumpy one filled with more than a few roadblocks. But after nearly a decade of financial challenges and false starts, the South Florida non-profit children's art outreach is ready to unveil its new home in Palm Beach County.
"The building is a seminal event in the history of the Center for Creative Education," says chief executive officer Robert Hamon, who was brought on as a consultant about two years ago to help the then-struggling nonprofit realize its goals and reaffirm its place in the community.
He says the new center -- located in West Palm Beach's blossoming Northwood Village arts district -- was a true "Murphy's" project, in that "if things could go wrong, they did." The 18,000-square-foot building, the site of a former roller skating rink, was purchased in 2005. Fundraising efforts kicked off in 2006, with construction following two years later. Work ceased in 2009 amid the country's economic meltdown and the Madoff investment scandal, which had a deep impact on the Palm Beach County philanthropic/non-profit community.
With Hamon's leadership, the organization refocused its energies, streamlining the building project and zeroing in on a plan that wouldn't rack up "long-term debt" for the CCE. That also meant paring down the original plans for the building, which called for an on-site theater, cafe and other labor-intensive amenities.
Hamon says it is important to "know how much the building will cost to operate" and "manage additional activities" so as to "make sense." To that end, phase one of the new building project includes office space for the small staff, classrooms, rehearsal space and an art gallery. The next phase calls for additional classrooms and meeting space. As the CCE evolves, the organization's leadership will decide how best to use any remaining space.
This fall will represent the first time the CCE, established in 1994, will be able to serve local kids in its own home base. Throughout its existence, the CCE (which works with local artists and teachers) has met its mission of using art to "enrich and transform children's educational experience" by offering in-school and after-school programs to children -- mostly elementary aged -- throughout the county.
"We've always had to borrow space," Hamon says.
The in-house programming in the Northwood Village building will augment the CCE's ongoing schedule of student outreach at local schools. Hamon says the organization is expected to work with more than 12,700 students this year. While the arts serve as the crux of the outreach, each 10-week "instructional unit" incorporates science, reading and other core curriculum components.
Take, for instance, the recently-wrapped "Manatee Insanity." The project included dozens of second grade students from Freedom Shores Elementary School in Boynton Beach. Kids read a book about a manatee and created illustrations to accompany the fictional story. They also created a board game, learned songs about the gentle sea-dwelling creatures and conducted science experiments to learn more about the Florida mammals' native environment.
Looking at what students created during the 10-week session, "you know the kids understood the material" Hamon says. Other past projects, like "The Ellis Island Project," have used art, reading and writing to look at complex issues -- like immigration -- through a kid-friendly lens.
Though the CCE is preparing to show off its new building this fall, it remains in fundraising mode, with hopes of netting private and public monies to augment recently-earned grants and past donations. It is, however, important to show the community now that the project has made real progress, Hamon says.
"The building is important from a programming perspective, but also from a symbolic perspective to show there has been forward momentum," Hamon says. "It's truly honoring the people who have supported the organization in a way that allows the organization to exist down the road."
The new home for CCE is located at 425 24th Street in Northwood Village in West Palm Beach. The center will host an open house from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, May 31, to offer a sneak peek at the new space. The open house will include works from the "Manatee Insanity" program.
Watch a video of the CCE in action below.