About a year ago, the CTSA Head Start in Shawnee knew it would have to get a new building for its nearly 100 students.

The program at 1535 N. McKinley Ave. serves children who are newborn to 5 years old. It's overseen by three tribes: the Sac and Fox Nation, the Kickapoo Tribe, and the Absentee Shawnee.

Ten modular units composed Head Start's former main student-used building. But the units weren't set properly, which caused sewage to start rising up from underneath the buildings. Mold grew, so at spring break the school was closed for mold remediation.

The students started the 2018-2019 school year in a temporary space, but by this fall they'll be in a new building. It was designed by Integrated Architecture and is being built by DBG Construction. A formal groundbreaking was held Tuesday.

Integrated Architecture invited DBG to bid on the initial $288,000 project, which was turning storage buildings into classroom spaces. The students were having to get schooling at home, with a teacher visiting them weekly and helping their parents or guardians understand how to teach the curriculum.

But when DBG CEO Deemah Ramadan started looking at the school's needs and its budget, she and Preconstruction Director Donna Baldwin knew they had to do more.

"Donna and I are bulldogs," Ramadan said. "We're going to make this come true for the sake of the kids."

They helped the school's executive program director, Sherry Marsh, apply for more federal money so they could build a $2.8 million, 8,780-square-foot school.

It took 60 days to turn the storage buildings into classrooms, with another office conference room being converted into two classrooms and an office renovated into a kitchen. Those renovated spaces are on the property's north side.

The old school is now demolished, with the new school expected to be opened by August. That's a short time frame for new construction, but Ramadan said her subcontractors are on board with meeting the deadline.

"Everyone is going to make it happen for these children," Ramadan said. "That's what keeps us motivated."

Marsh said the program serves low-income and homeless children, as well as those with disabilities. Homeless is defined as a family that doesn't have its own home and may live with family members or friends.

She said the new school building will provide a safe and clean environment for the students, which they may not have at home. The new building has a safety vestibule at its entrance so parents or guardians will have to sign in before entering. The old school did not have a similar feature.

"They'll feel safe here," Marsh said.

The new school will have seven classrooms, office space, and a commercial kitchen where food can be prepared. The main entrance area is a dancing circle that will also be used as an eating area.

Marsh said the dancing circle will allow Native American students to practice their dancing tradition, as well as help non-Native American students learn to respect those traditions and tribal people.

But when the new school opens, the temporary classrooms aren't going away, so there's room to grow on the campus, Ramadan said.

"We were able to stretch those federal dollars and be a good fiduciary steward of the people's money," she said.

The Head Start student numbers have decreased because some children have gone on to public school. However, Marsh said there's a waiting list for early Head Start, which is for newborns to 3-year-olds.

Until the new school is done, the administrative staff is sharing offices and living in crammed quarters. Baldwin said she's looking forward to seeing this project's end result, especially after seeing the building where Head Start was housed.

"We want to make sure the kids always have the proper equipment, facilities, and a clean and safe environment," Baldwin said. "I'm sure excited, not only for the adults and the teachers, but for the kids. That's my huge reward at the end of this project."