FAIRBANKS — Every surface — from the air hockey table in the play hall to the bookshelf in the homework room — has been polished in anticipation of children coming to the new Fort Wainwright School Age Center.
The $17 million building, the product of a federal Army Family Covenant grant, is a place for kindergarten through sixth-grade students to go before and after school. Occasionally on Saturdays, it’s also a place for students to spend the day while parents take a break when their deployed partners are away.
White ceilings hang high above. Rows of cubbies nestle along the walls. Seats in a waiting area invite parents and children. Books and games in several classrooms await small hands.
Army Alaska wants the center to be a non-stressful place for children to go outside of school.
“We know when these kids are crying when they’re leaving, we’ve done our job,” Jordan Lewis, director of the center joked at a grand opening Monday.
When families are happy and not stressed, it allows a soldier to focus on the job at hand, according to Maj. Gen. Ray Palumbo of U.S. Army Alaska. Palumbo spoke Monday about the importance of family in the Army.
For seven years, he said, the Army has been building up units, sending them off to war, bringing them home and preparing them to deploy again.
“It’s like we’re on this treadmill,” he said, and that can be a major stressor for families. “It really means that the families have to be just as strong.”
The new center is replacing an older facility, which opened in 2008. Lewis said the new facility, which officially opened its doors in mid-September, is the nicest place he has worked in his 20 years of child and youth services.
“This is a great move,” he said. “We actually can see ... the entire facility.”
People entering the facility will ring a bell for clearance — a security measure Lewis said parents really appreciate — and will walk into a lobby opening up into a large hall. Around the perimeter of the hall are the “classrooms,” which include a computer lab, a homework lab, kindergarten rooms, a craft room, a performing arts room, a science room, a multipurpose room and more. In the performing arts room, students might learn a Hawaiian dance, while others sing karaoke in the technology room. Children get to choose where they want to go for the day and can change their choices if they like.
“We do not duplicate the school system,” Lewis said, but students still are learning academically.
As Garrison Commander Col. Ronald Johnson prepared to help seven kindergartners cut a large purple ribbon to the center’s entrance, he said the building was a good addition to the post.
“In my mind, you all have earned it, and this is exactly what you deserve,” he said.
Contact staff writer Reba Lean at 459-7523.