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2021 Design Team of the Year finalist: Adah Fulbright Early Childhood Center

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When a design team approaches a site, the terrain can speak to them about opportunities and challenges.

Nathan Burkholder of Paragon Architecture LLC remembers when his team first walked the site of the Adah Fulbright Early Childhood Center, which serves preschool-aged children. The property was on a popular sledding hill beset with boulders and lined by trees and a greenway trail.

“The site had some challenges, plus some really good views,” he said.

And then someone on the team said the magic word.

“Pretty much our concept was to design a treehouse,” Burkholder said. “Kids that age love treehouses.”

Today, the building is positioned up off the ground with columns that are representative of trees and a playfully angled roof structure. Views from a long line of windows inside suggest the children are looking down from the treetop onto the slope below.

“The kids loved it,” Burkholder said, noting it opened when students were returning to school following COVID-19 closures. “That first day in the new building, they were really excited about it.”

Overhangs in the design create an outdoor covered play area, but Burkholder’s favorite feature is the building’s upper-level outdoor play area.

“I don’t know of a place that really has something like that, so it has another exterior space where kids can go and play,” he said. “They don’t have to go far, and they can experience great views.”

The feature was achieved because of challenges caused by large rocks embedded in the site. Some spaces had to be shifted or offset, Burkholder said, and that led to the whimsical roof line.

Burkholder said the center was a team project, with everyone lending ideas.

“Once we had a concept, everyone bought in, so we all had a single, focused vision,” Burkholder said. “From then on, we were all just on the same path, the same page.”

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