Author: Rhian Allvin
This month, Brynmor Early Education & Preschool (Brynmor) will welcome families with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to new and revolutionary child care center — built at a site that was once a prison. It is an unlikely transformation story that community leaders are hailing as a game-changer for the community, and a new model for child care delivery.
LORTON, Va., Oct. 16, 2023 /PRNewswire-PRWeb/ — When Rhian Evans Allvin went looking for just the right location to open her child care company’s flagship child care center, she found inspiration in the unlikeliest of places: a long-closed maximum-security unit of a violent prison complex in the Washington, DC, suburb of Lorton, Virginia.
This month, Brynmor Early Education & Preschool (Brynmor) will welcome families with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers to a center completely converted from cell blocks once so overcrowded that it provoked violent revolts, forcing closure of the complex in 1999. It is an unlikely transformation story that community leaders are hailing as a game-changer for the community, and a new model for child care delivery.
“Few things have the power to redefine the community’s relationship with this historic place like the addition of high-quality childcare,” said Elm Street Development Vice President Jack Perkins, whose company is redeveloping cell blocks in the sprawling former complex. “Brynmor gives the old Lorton Prison a new identity.”
“This center flies in the face of a lot of conventional wisdom, and that’s the point of choosing this site,” said Evans Allvin, who started Brynmor in 2022 after nine years as CEO of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
“Conventional wisdom says you can’t simultaneously offer top-quality early childhood centers to families of all incomes, and pay highly qualified early childhood educators dignifying, livable wages,” Evans Allvin said. “Conventional wisdom also says you can’t convert a maximum-security prison unit into a child-friendly, high-quality child care center. The point of our brand is to demonstrate what’s possible for early childhood education.”
The center will begin operations October 16, eventually welcoming up to 156 children into two historic buildings. In place of two-story rows of cell blocks are light-filled rooms with vaulted ceilings and premium furnishings for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. A courtyard where inmates were once permitted outside for one hour a day now boasts a grassy play area with a cement tricycle racetrack, climbing logs, and a “mud kitchen.”
Civic leaders call the center’s opening a turning point, both for child care rebuilding from pandemic setbacks, and for the ongoing effort to evolve the D.C. suburb of Lorton from its lingering identity as a prison community to its current status as a thriving, diverse suburban community for federal employees, military families, and immigrant communities.
“I am pleased to welcome Brynmor to Liberty to provide much needed childcare within this new community,” said Fairfax County Supervisor Dan Storck, who has spent over a decade advocating for redevelopment of the property. “As a longtime supporter of lifelong learning, providing high-quality child care is just the beginning of that journey and is an excellent addition to the transformation of Liberty into a destination to live, work learn and play. This is a great day for our youngest Lorton residents.”
“The intentionality of the site location is brilliant,” said Marica Cox Mitchell, vice president of early childhood for the Bainum Family Foundation. “Putting best-in-industry child care in a community like Lorton, at a site like the old Lorton Prison, is a bold statement of purpose and prioritizes supporting families over separating families. Normalizing this level of quality and equitable access for families is core to the Bainum Family Foundation’s early childhood work. This is what families with young children want, and this is what early childhood educators have been asking for.”
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To learn more about Liberty Market’s historic redevelopment click here.
Architectural services: Maginnis + Del Ninno Architects
Construction services: The Russell Gage Corporation