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4000 Valley Square to house Head Start classrooms, playground

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A project that will foster connections between the young and old, to the benefit of both, is in the works at 4000 Valley Square, an assisted living facility in Grand Forks.

The facility is remodeling space for a playground and two Head Start classrooms for three-and four-year-olds as part of its $10.8 million addition and renovation project, said administrator Mindy Marcus.

Tracey Johnson, director of Grand Forks Public Schools' Head Start program, said, to her knowledge, this will be the first Head Start program in the country to be located in an assisted living facility.

The Head Start project is a cooperative effort between Valley Memorial Homes, Valley Memorial Foundation, Grand Forks Public Schools and the Grand Forks Foundation for Education.

Representatives of the foundations are raising funds for the $230,000 project, said Emilia Hodgson, executive director of the Foundation for Education.

Project leaders say they are excited about plans for "intergenerational programming," such as music and art activities, which will bring seniors and children together and promote "mentoring and role-modeling" relationships.

"There's a benefit to both our students and their residents," Johnson said. "We going to incorporate their music and art programs with our students ... We're going to have our own little, mini Art Wise show, and we're going to have concerts. It's going to be such a fun endeavor."

The playground also will be a plus for families with children who are visiting residents, Johnson said. They also will be able to enjoy the playground, which will have a special, thick rubber surface to allow for the safety of residents who use walkers or wheelchairs.

"Having intergenerational programming has been a desire for us since our campus opened, to be able to have kids here along with our elders," said Marcus.

Incorporating the Head Start classrooms and playground into plans for the facility's remodeling and expansion project "was a great opportunity for us to accomplish something that we have wanted to since we built back in '98," she said. "The timing for Head Start and our organization was just wonderful."

The benefits for residents include "their opportunity to be involved and give back, the creation of relationships with these kids—to be that grandparent figure," Marcus said. "Just to have children in our building—the laughter, the spontaneity and variety that comes with having kids in the building, the list goes on and on."

The Head Start classrooms will be situated in the facility's "Town Square," a common area that is available to all residents at 4000 Valley Square, which includes independent living, assisted living, memory care and nursing home units.

The Head Start classroom at Ben Franklin Elementary School and one from another location yet to be determined will move to 4000 Valley Square, said Johnson.

Each classroom will accommodate 17 children.

Relocating the Head Start classrooms is necessary because of space shortages in the schools where they're currently located, she said. "They're full. They need their classroom space for the children who attend there."

The renovation and expansion project at 4000 Valley Square includes an addition to house 20 skilled-nursing private rooms in the nursing home unit, an addition to the assisted living unit to house a community and activity space, remodeling of Town Square and adding an elevator in the independent living unit.

The classrooms and playground are expected to be ready for use in August.

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