Groundbreaking kicks off work on new preschool building at Tryon Elementary

The future of preschool education at Tryon Elementary School began to take shape with a nod to its past.

Polk County Schools officials, Tryon Elementary staff members and community residents gathered May 1 at TES for a groundbreaking ceremony for the school’s latest addition, a new Forbes Preschool building that will house pre-kindergarten students.

The addition on the main Tryon campus will include five classrooms and will allow school officials to relocate students from the current Forbes Preschool site, located down the hill on School Street. This will mean a much safer environment for those students as well as help solve logistical and space concerns for Polk County Schools. The facility will also include occupational, physical therapy and speech-language rooms plus a dedicated playground for preschooler

Funding for the new building is coming via grants from the Office of Head Start ($1.5 million), the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction ($1.3 million), Dogwood Health Trust ($300,000) and other local funds.

The vision for a dedicated preschool facility began years ago with local philanthropist Margaret Forbes.

“When she called and said that Bill Miller Sr. was going to help her begin her own foundation and that she wanted to invest in a unique program where a major difference could be made in the lives of children, we began to brainstorm and talk about large needs, and, hence, the Forbes Preschool was on its way,” recalled Susan McHugh of the Stuart and Margaret L Forbes Foundation and former superintendent of Polk County Schools.

“In 1997, the Duke Power Building was purchased, which has been home to the Forbes Preschool Educational Center. The goal, which was visionary 26 years ago, was to develop a program for four-year-olds at little or no cost to parents. The Board of Education embraced the concept and right away made plans for resources to implement the four-year-old program at each elementary school. No hesitation, no ‘oh, that won’t work’. Just an action plan to make it happen.”

Tryon Elementary Principal Dr. Cari Maneen speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony for the school’s new preschool building

Polk County Schools’ preschool program has been hailed statewide as a model and is often cited as one of the factors in Polk County Schools consistently ranking among the state’s top school districts. It’s common for leaders in other school districts to call or visit to learn more about the program, and EdNC featured the district’s pre-kindergarten approach in a 2021 article (link: https://www.ednc.org/polk-county-nc-pre-k-separate-how-small-rural-district-unites-two-different-worlds/)

“Research is very clear on how this extra year, or even two, impacts the long-term success of children throughout their school careers and beyond,” McHugh said. “And this program has been a major force in our celebration of a school system which is supported by various groups of stakeholders and which consistently has performed in the top five school systems out of 100 in North Carolina. Quite an achievement.

“Margaret Forbes loved this program. Often times she would call and say, ‘can we go down and see the children?’ At holidays she always took treats. And, of course, you know that three and four-year-olds are bursting with energy, open arms and unconditional love. A visit to Forbes was like an event where 40 or 50 little puppies charge you! It is magical and transforming to experience how a group of 30 or 40 preschoolers can very quickly get your day in perspective.”

Polk County Board of Education Chairman Mike Ashworth, former Assistant Superintendent Dave Scherping, Preschool Director Kathy Harding, Dogwood Health Trust’s Victoria Brownlee and Polk County Schools Superintendent Aaron Greene also spoke at the groundbreaking.

Champion Construction of Tryon will serve as the general contractor for the project. The building is expected to be completed by spring 2024.

Champion Construction began work immediately following the groundbreaking and has already made significant progress on the building’s foundation
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