Building Community Dreams at the Shafter Learning Center

By Wendy Helfenbaum 02-24-2020
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With "Have Dreams" as its slogan, the Shafter Learning Center is a place where kids can find unique educational opportunities that help them aspire to greater heights and achieve bigger dreams. Located in Shafter, CA, the center's offerings range from courses in science, history, and literature to classes that let students learn to build a rocket or study the science of food.

However, the center has recently found itself running out of room. It has outgrown its space in the Kern County Library and needs to build an expansion. The good news is, it's not embarking on this project alone.

With a shingle and glass mat plant in Shafter, GAF is a proud member of the Shafter community. The company's employees are dedicated to investing in the community that so many of them call home.

In the spirit of community development, GAF has teamed up with the Project for Public Spaces (PPS), an organization that works collaboratively with communities and companies to create sustainable public community spaces. Together with the city of Shafter, they've put plans in place to transform the Shafter Learning Center's adjacent outdoor space into an expanded hub for learning.

Gathering Great Ideas

When beginning their plans for the space, representatives from GAF prioritized having discussions with the local community with the knowledge that the best insights emerge when listening to and working alongside the people directly impacted by their work. More than 15 employees from the GAF plant in Shafter participated in planning sessions, giving them an opportunity to improve their own community at their workplace.

GAF representatives spent many months consulting with residents and education specialists to determine the community's top needs, like flexible classroom and meeting space, open outdoor areas, and a new children's library where families can relax and read together.

GAF managers also led workshops with plant employees about the new initiative, held conversations with community leaders, and took tours of potential project sites. Two possible concepts for the new Shafter Learning Center expansion emerged from these conversations.

Collaborating with Residents

GAF and PPS also took steps to make sure they heard from the people who would be using this new space every day.

To do that, the company held a collaborative community forum. More than 340 Shafter residents and city leaders gathered for a fun community event held on September 28 at the Shafter Learning Center. They came together to help reimagine the future of their learning center and share their vision for the space.

The inspiring conversations resulted in some excellent ideas. Suggestions included maximizing unused space to add a patio, adding comfortable seating areas, and outfitting an upcycled shipping container to be an all-purpose gathering spot. Guests provided feedback on the two proposed concepts to expand the space by posting their suggestions onto visual displays. Options included a new children's classroom and adjacent workshop space for woodworking, jewelry-making and welding, as well as a new two-story building next to the center. An open courtyard, plus space for events or parties, rounded out the proposals.

Forging New Dreams for the Future

Equipped with community inputs and insights from the learning center's users, GAF is now ready to decide exactly which elements to include in the expansion, design the project and, ultimately, get building.

As GAF, PPS and city officials move forward with this exciting project, everyone feels confident that this initiative will help the city of Shafter protect what matters most—a strong educational foundation for its citizens. As a proud member of the Shafter community, GAF is excited to continue investing in its neighbors.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Wendy Helfenbaum is a Montreal-based journalist, content marketing writer and TV producer who covers design, architecture, real estate, gardening and travel for many publications and brands, including Country Gardens, Metropolis Magazine, Realtor.com, Marriott Traveler, Costco Connection, Toll Brothers, PBS NextAvenue.org and many more. Wendy loves keeping up with current design trends and is addicted to home improvement DIY reality shows. Follow her @WendyHelfenbaum.
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