Berkeley Opens School Year with State-of-the-Art Early Childhood Center
Spearheaded by a $2 million lead gift by Tampa business leader and philanthropist Bob Gries, Jr., the Seivold Center for Early Childhood Education at Berkeley Preparatory School is a site to behold. The expansive 30,000-square-foot learning center provides an inspirational setting for Berkeley’s youngest students as they embark on the path of lifelong learning. Other key donors, including Tate and Blake Casper, the MacKechnie (Fraser ’93 and Tracy) family and Goldsmith family, stepped forward with their support to join Gries to make the Seivold Center for Early Childhood Education a reality. It officially opened its doors to students and their families on the first day of the school year, August 21.
“We know that the needs of early childhood learners are different from those of elementary school students,” said Melissa Davis, Berkeley’s Lower Division Director. “Our youngest students need a place to call their own in a unique learning environment that allows for flexibility and emphasizes exploration, play, collaboration, and reminds us of the whimsy of childhood.”
Upon entering the Seivold Center, visitors can’t miss the larger than life-sized tree that rises two floors up and serves as the building’s iconic centerpiece as well its elevator. The tree complements the theme of personal growth reflected throughout the center. School officials, along with architect Jordan Behar ’90 of Behar Peteranecz and contractors from DPR Construction, envisioned a learning environment where the Berkeley education can take root and enables students to grow, not only in stature, but in character, in curiosity, and in confidence. In all, the Seivold Center includes 12 classrooms, large group gathering spaces, and two inspiring outdoor play areas (a rooftop pirate ship playground and a natural playground and outdoor classroom) that encourage children in grades Pre-K - 1 to be inquisitive, imaginative and passionate learners in a setting unlike any other in the region.
“It has been an honor and a privilege to provide the lead gift for the Seivold Center for Early Childhood Education,” Gries explained. “Several years ago, I spoke with Headmaster Seivold about developing a state-of-the-art, transformative facility for our youngest learners and he and his staff have built a remarkable facility. It was heartwarming to see the joy and enthusiasm on the faces of our Pre-K through grade 1 students.”
The building’s namesake honors Headmaster Joseph W. Seivold and his wife, Joan. The surprise announcement was made in 2017 at the board of trustee’s end-of-year meeting to honor Seivold’s hard work, dedication and leadership in guiding Berkeley through one of the most transformative periods in the school’s history. The headmaster has played an integral role in fundraising more than $63 million toward the build out of a 25-year Master Plan that has almost been realized in half the time. The Above & Beyond Campaign at Berkeley ranks among the Tampa Bay area’s most successful privately-funded capital campaign efforts. Gries has personally given in excess of $6 million to support various campaign initiatives.