UW News

April 8, 2021

UW receives $30 million gift to renovate Haring Center for Inclusive Education, underscoring the importance of early childhood education

UW News

The UW received a $30 million gift to renovate Haring Center for Inclusive Education. An artist's rendering envisions what the new space will look like.

The UW received a $30 million gift to renovate Haring Center for Inclusive Education. An artist's rendering envisions what the new space will look like.

The UW received a $30 million gift to renovate Haring Center for Inclusive Education. An artist's rendering envisions what the new space will look like.

Since 1964, the University of Washington Haring Center for Inclusive Education has provided innovative special education and early learning, improving the lives of children and youth with neurodevelopmental disorders and other disabilities.

But the building that’s home to this work, tucked behind the UW Medicine Surgery Pavilion along the Montlake Cut, is antiquated, overcrowded and badly in need of a comprehensive overhaul. Now, thanks to a generous $30 million gift from the Sunderland Foundation, the UW will renovate the existing facility to continue to provide leading-edge services.

“The work at the Haring Center has changed the way we understand early childhood education, and, thanks to the Sunderland Foundation’s tremendous gift, we now can chart a path forward for another 50 years of community support and more cutting-edge research outcomes,” said Mia Tuan, dean of the College of Education.

The Haring Center is an interdisciplinary hub for direct education, professional development and research. It’s home to the Experimental Education Unit (EEU), a school serving children from birth to kindergarten, teaching kids of all abilities, including those on the autism spectrum and other families not served in mainstream education. And researchers from the Haring Center develop cutting-edge techniques they share with other educators around the world, making the UW a hive to develop the very best for early childhood learning.

The Sunderland familyDennis Wise/University of Washington

“We hope through our gift that the building is better from all perspectives,” said Bill Sunderland, who along with his wife, Alyssa, helped shepherd the donation from their family’s foundation. All three of their children attended the EEU at the Haring Center, and the couple has been talking with the center about possible renovations for years. “It definitely needs to improve in terms of efficiency, both in how people work together, and environmental efficiency.”

Like many buildings that are half a century old, the facility needs significant repair. The heating system works sporadically, there is no cooling system, and the roof needs replacement, among other challenges such as poor internet access and outdated classroom and research space, and limited access for people with disabilities.

“When buildings were built 50 years ago, we did work differently,” said Ilene Schwartz, the Haring Center’s faculty director. Tiny offices no longer meet the need of a collaborative work environment, and small observation rooms don’t work for educators and parents. “This will not only improve the quality of the classrooms to make sure that they’re safe and accessible and state-of-the-art, it will also improve the workspace for our professional development teams and our research teams.”

The building will be substantially updated to improve performance and meet current code requirements. Foundations, shear wall, beams, headers and columns will be replaced or reinforced. The roof will be replaced, and all of the electrical distribution, access control and surveillance systems will be upgraded along with heating and cooling systems, all improving the building’s environmental footprint. The project will achieve a LEED Gold designation.

In addition to mitigating all health and safety issues and hazardous materials throughout the center, the renovation will renew many of the positive and identifying elements of the existing Haring Center building, including visual access to the water, rich interior materials and the simple and welcoming courtyard forms.

The renovated space will add much-needed meeting space for training and collaboration and will include comprehensive classroom improvements to enhance learning and observation. The office and support areas will be brought up to a contemporary workplace standard to enhance flexibility and staff morale, and to encourage more collaboration among staff and visitors. Overall, the renovation will result in a complete building renewal and maximum extension of the building’s anticipated useful life.

“It’s going to allow us to work more efficiently and creatively. This will create a space for collaboration between our EEU and our professional development and research teams,” said Chris Matsumoto, the EEU’s principal.

The day-to-day experiences for children and families will be improved, too. Better access at pickup and drop-off, restructured classroom layouts, and more opportunities for outdoor and movement activities in the larger and more flexible indoor and outdoor play and community spaces, all are in the works. Enlarged observation spaces will make it easier for families to watch their children, and expanded community space will provide opportunities for family members to gather and build relationships.

“The fact that we’re going to have a building that is going to take this program forward is both humbling and amazing,” Schwartz said. “We’ve always been underfunded, and we’ve grown accustomed to being in run-down spaces. To think that we’re going to have a brand-new building that is designed for us, with children and families first, and our researchers and professional development staff first is – it gives me goosebumps. This was so individualized to the uniqueness of our program and the uniqueness of our needs.”

The redesigned workspaces for the research, educational and professional development teams will provide flexibility for meetings, collaboration and the interdisciplinary work that is a trademark of the Haring Center, and will accommodate the anticipated growth of the center’s research and professional development programs. New meeting and training spaces will help the Haring Center staff share the educational practices that they develop and evaluate with broader audiences.

“Knowing how much this means to the teachers and the researchers and staff that have dedicated their time to that place and to the movement for inclusive education, I just feel like it’s what they deserve, and so it feels satisfying,” said Alyssa Sunderland. “We hope it continues to elevate the work of the Haring Center.”

The 30,375-square-foot project is being led by Mithun. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year and take about two years to complete.