McClellan building rendering

When the 2024-2025 school year starts, a long-shuttered property on Detroit’s East side will make way for a new education center serving the community’s youngest children. 

More than 20,000 Detroit children under age 5 don’t have access to quality care and education, according to research by IFF, the community development financial institution (CDFI) that developed the McClellan Early Childhood Education Center. 

McClellan, which will serve 96 kids and their families in the Gratiot Woods neighborhood, is a step toward narrowing that gap, with potential for much broader community impact, said Kirby Burkholder, IFF’s president of core business solutions. 

“We see early childhood education centers and quality schools as community anchors. Not only do they contribute to neighborhood stability; as the neighborhood becomes more stable, homes get more valuable and folks start building equity. When done responsibly, there’s this wonderful ripple effect,” Burkholder said. 

Impact beyond education

High-quality early childhood education facilities create welcoming spaces that help kids learn and develop independence, and McClellan’s benefits extend to families, too, said Rick Raleigh, IFF senior project manager. “Having a safe, reliable place that will not only care for your children but educate them is a huge piece of parents being able to confidently return to work,” he said.

Many families, however, lack access to an affordable, high-quality child care center like McClellan. Nearly one-third of children under 5 with all available parents in the workforce don’t have access to a child care program in their community, according to a Bipartisan Policy Center estimate. When care is available, prices are “untenable” for many families, ranging from 8% to 19.3% of median household income per child depending on the provider type, child’s age and county population, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Creating more early childhood education centers is “one of the least controversial things you could build,” Raleigh said. But developing the facilities can be deceptively challenging. It requires expertise, creativity and committed teams. 

It’s a challenge IFF, which supports nonprofits throughout the Midwest with capital and real estate consulting services, has turned into a specialty.

McClellan Early Childhood Education Center by the numbers: 







“IFF’s ability to provide a range of services to the community certainly sets them apart. They bring development expertise that fills a gap,” said En Jung Kim, head of New Markets Tax Credit for Community Development Banking at JPMorgan Chase.

Vacant buildings typically need extensive renovation to become kid-friendly learning spaces. And making significant investments in facilities is “extremely difficult” for early childhood education providers already facing very tight budgets, Raleigh said. That often leaves providers working from locations that don’t match the quality of their programming and are too small to be financially sustainable. 

“We want to make sure each setting is structured in a way that reflects and contributes to the quality of the programming and helps stabilize providers,” he said.

McClellan building courtyard

Designed for children and families

From location to design, each aspect of McClellan’s development was driven by IFF’s research on Detroit’s early childhood education needs and designing facilities to enhance learning. 

  • Neighborhood need: Building McClellan in Gratiot Woods fills a gap. The neighborhood has high-performing schools serving older students, but needs more spots in quality early childhood education programs to help every child enter school ready to learn. 
  • Programming: Offering full-day care for infants, toddlers and preschoolers at one location makes life easier for families juggling work and caring for multiple young kids, as pickups and drop-offs have one destination. Detroit-based nonprofit Matrix Human Services will run Head Start and Early Head Start programs at McClellan, which are free to eligible low-income families. 
  • Classroom design: Each classroom has space to play and learn with colors that are engaging but not overstimulating, with plenty of windows at child height for natural light. Every classroom has direct access to the playground and a covered porch allowing year-round, all-weather access to the outdoors.
  • Sustainable size: McClellan’s scale—eight classrooms—is a sweet spot: small enough to be manageable, but large enough for sustainable operations.
  • Community access: The 1.7-acre site is embedded in the neighborhood. McClellan will have meeting spaces available to local residents and organizations, and there are plans for a community garden. 
  • Ownership opportunity: Matrix had an early childhood education center on Detroit’s East side but needed to find new space after losing its lease. IFF will be McClellan’s interim owner while Matrix ramps up its services, but Matrix will have the opportunity to take over ownership, giving it a stable space in the community.

Team approach

IFF worked closely with MACC Development, an established community development organization, to build critical community support for McClellan, Raleigh said. 

Funding the $8.75 million development also took collaboration between public and private entities, including JPMorgan Chase, which contributed $2.5 million in New Markets Tax Credit equity financing. The investment in McClellan is part of JPMorgan Chase’s $200 million commitment to Detroit, and supporting early childhood education helps bolster the city’s economic recovery, said Michael Rhodes, executive director in Community Development Banking at JPMorgan Chase.

“Providing capital to CDFIs is a critical bridge to economic and community development. When we’re talking about job creation and driving the economy, one impediment is insufficient early child care support. Folks need to be able to go to work knowing their kids are safe and being educated—without paying an outrageous amount for it,” Rhodes said. 

“The end goal isn’t that we cut a ribbon and walk away,” Burkholder said. “It’s just one contribution toward the larger vision, where we’re working to make thoughtful, strategic and equity-centered investments in Detroit that support the transformation of our communities in a way that’s reflective of the residents’ vision.”

Images credit: D MET Studio

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