Vacant Big Box Store Finds New Life as a Preschool

Vacant Big Box Store Finds New Life as a Preschool

A “before” photo of the old store.

In the small Indiana community of Shelbyville, Shelbyville Central Schools District will transform a nearly 63,000 square foot abandoned Marsh Food Store and the adjacent strip center – once housing other retail stores, a restaurant, movie rental store, and a bank – into a preschool, space for children with special needs, and the school district’s offices.

“This is a welcomed challenge to reuse a derelict wide-open retail space into productive educationally-significant learning space,” said Schmidt Associates CEO Sarah Hempstead. Schmidt Associates is an Indianapolis full-service architecture and engineering firm.

The grocery store closed in January 2011 and remains vacant with the rest of the center. The store closing was one of many in the state as the once dominant regional grocery chain spun off properties.

“Shelbyville Central Schools saw an opportunity to turn the old Marsh shopping center into a facility benefitting our students, our community and the school corporation,” said Shelbyville Central Schools Superintendent Dr. David Adams.

When completed in the summer of 2019 it will have 15 classrooms, indoor and outdoor playgrounds, and the SENSES facility, a sensory-stimulation playroom which provides special assistance to children with special needs. The district’s offices will also move to the new site.


A Transformative Challenge

Transforming wide-open space that once sold bread, pizza, fresh veggies, and thousands of gallons of milk takes more than dropping in room dividers and doors and calling them classrooms, said Anna Marie Burrell, Schmidt Associates project principal-in-charge and K-12 Studio Leader. “This is a new educational facility and we have to design it from the ground up as we do with the hundreds of other schools we’ve designed. The biggest difference between this and K-12 new construction is we’re reconfiguring with the shell in place which challenges design flexibility.

“The unique part of what we are doing is the space itself. We will tear down the old grocery store entry and build two new classrooms and an indoor playground area. A new, secure entry vestibule will be cut into the building adjacent to that space,” Burrell said.

The new administration office area will be in what was the bank at the end of the shopping center. It includes open and private offices and a large flexible boardroom. The old bank’s drive-up areas will become covered outdoor seating.


Scaling Down for Little Ones

The former grocery store had typical 20-some-foot tall ceilings and commercial-grade large fluorescent lighting fixtures. “We had to keep preschool-aged children in mind and bring everything down to scale. The ceiling heights will come down by about half to make kids feel more comfortable. There will even be a small, 4-foot door entryway for the little kids to use. That’s a small touch to make them feel more welcome in a large space,” Schmidt Associates’ project architect Brandon Fox pointed out.

The entire space will be updated with new HVAC systems and LED lighting. Within the SENSES area, which includes different types of spaces, there will be a classroom equipped with special lighting that can be dimmed or change colors to create a calming room, Fox said

The building’s interior and exterior are important Adams said. “When a parent drives by or walks up to the school, the exterior needs to draw them in. The interior proves it can meet the students’ needs.”

The parking lot will be updated with landscape features and more greenspace, a bus lot added to the side separate from the parking and a parent drop-off/pick-up point in the front. Bear-shaped protective bollards, which will resemble the schools’ mascot, will line the entry way sidewalk. This is another creative touch to draw students in Burrell said. There will also be a fenced-in outdoor playground added behind the building.

The preschool serves as the educational gateway into the District’s K-12 schools, giving children a good start to their school career. “We want parents to be excited about enrolling their child in our preschool,” Adams said. Burrell emphasized, “This preschool will look like the building was always meant to be a preschool.”


Good for the Community

Taking what was an eyesore and turning it into a new, attractive preschool and school office complex benefits everyone said Shelbyville Mayor Tom DeBaun. “They are taking a building we reluctantly call an eyesore and are adding value to it,” he said in the Shelbyville News newspaper. In the same interview DeBaun said “with the plans they have, the things they are going to do for that facility, it’s growing their capacity and it’s stabilizing a neighborhood.”

“Schools are important when it comes to attracting new business and young families to an area which is why this building is an asset for all.

“Education has become competitive so we need to constantly market to prospective families. With open enrollment people can choose to enroll their children in any school corporation. Shelbyville Central Schools’ commitment to a quality education for children of all ages is even more evident with this facility and our enhanced focus on early childhood education,” Superintendent Adams said.

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