What if we could turn around the future of thousands of children at risk for academic failure and spur economic development at the same time in the urban core?

What if we could turn around the future of thousands of children at risk for academic failure and spur economic development at the same time in the urban core? 

The May 20 Kansas City Star extolled an impending $80 million “children’s campus” as the largest development project in downtown Kansas City, Kansas in decades.

And the driving force behind a potential economic engine for this chronically challenged urban core? Representatives of community non-profits committed to improving the lives and potential of the 4,000 low-income children and their families who live there.

Two Life Span Institute affiliated scientists, Charles Greenwood, director of the Juniper Gardens Children’s
Project, and Martha Staker, director of ProjectE AGLE, both longstanding research-based community programs, have lead the private-public effort to build the Children’s Campus of Kansas City where agencies will be co-located and work collaboratively.

Along with their counterparts from the Family Conservancy, the Children’s Museum of Kansas City and several other agencies, Greenwood and Staker envision the Children’s Campus as a way to create a kind of critical mass of expertise and economy of scale in addressing the needs of the community comprehensively.

For years the Kansas City agencies were frustrated by their inability to provide coordinated support e ciently to children and their families.

Some agencies have long waiting lists while others operate below capacity and families often get sporadic and disconnected services.

“It is scally unwise and inefficient to continue to try to address the problems of low-income families and children in an uncoordinated way,” said Greenwood.

Located on six city blocks near the present location of Juniper Gardens at State and Minnesota Avenues and 3rd & 5th Streets, the campus will be anchored by the three-story Bounce Building (after the Bounce Learning Network). The Children’s Museum will relocate to a nearby renovated building.

The Bounce Building will house a model infant/toddler and preschool programs (Project EAGLE); dental and health-care services and family support (the Family Conservancy) and research, (the Juniper Gardens Children’s Project) serving 250 children a year.

But there’s more. The unique entrepreneurial component of the site is a proposed 10-story office tower that would be owned by the CCKC to help sustain the campus and fuel the city’s economic renaissance. The building is contingent on the group’s ability to get conventional loans and New Market tax credits.

Substantial support to date has come from many sources including the Susan A. Buffet Foundation, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and the Dunn Family Foundation. Individual families from the community have contributed $12,000 so far. Bank Midwest and the Unified Government of Wyandotte County have donated land. A $20 million dollar capital campaign is in progress. Construction could begin as early as the end of 2006.

“If all goes according to plan, we could be preparing children for academic success and attracting their future employers to the community at the same time,” Greenwood predicted.