RACINE — The old Carnegie Library that served as the Uptown branch of Racine Public Library, may find new life as a Spanish immersion Montessori preschool.
Mildred Zamorano-Perry brought her proposal for the building at 1407 S. Memorial Dr., constructed in 1914, before the Plan Commission on Wednesday.
The commission voiced support for Zamorano-Perry’s vision for the program but deferred making a decision until some of the details regarding the location are worked out.
Seeing benefits first-hand
Zamorano-Perry started teaching in Gilmore Middle School’s dual language program and then went on to Horning Middle School in the Waukesha School District. In her experience as an educator, she’s convinced that immersion is the best way for a child to learn a second language.
Her children took part in Montessori programming and she credits that education model for them being well-rounded academically, socially and for their willingness to contribute to the community. She is currently working toward her doctoral degree in Montessori methods.
After seeing the benefits her children received from being raised bilingually (Zamorano-Perry’s family is from Bolivia) and attending Montessori schools, she wants to offer those opportunities to other children in Racine.
“Racine gave me my entrance as an educator,” Zamorano-Perry said. “It’s giving back to the community. I feel that giving back is a beautiful circle — to give back to everybody who has given me the opportunity to teach their children, the community, the Spanish-speaking community as well as the colleagues that I have that are from all areas of the world.”
Racine Unified School District and Milwaukee Public Schools both have dual language and language immersion programs at some of their schools. Milwaukee also has some preschools with a language component.
Gina Bianchi is the principal at Milwaukee French Immersion School and she said that students who take part in immersion programs will eventually “outperform their single-language peers” as a result of starting to naturally learn multiple languages at an early age.
“They will be more ‘flexible’ thinkers, just in general,” Bianchi said. “Learning in another language really makes them understand cultures around the world and know that there is a whole world outside of Wisconsin … Research really does show that, even if there is an initial delay in learning to read and write in English, there is a big, big benefit afterward.”
Zamorano-Perry plans to have half-days from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. If there is enough demand she plans to add an afternoon session from 12:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.
The Plan Commission deferred Zamorano-Perry’s application to give city staff and Zamorano-Perry time to work through some of the questions and concerns about the proposal.
Since the site is at the corner of two main thoroughfares, Washington Avenue and Memorial Drive, the commission’s biggest concern was traffic flow during drop-off and pick-up times. The current plan is for vehicles to enter the parking lot on Washington Avenue and exit onto Memorial Drive.
Engineers with the city believe that traffic flow would be most efficient, but want a study done with a certified traffic engineer to ensure traffic won’t be backed up onto Washington.
Zamorano-Perry told the commission she plans to cap the number of children enrolled to 25 to avoid traffic issues. She also plans to do a test run with friends to check if her traffic flow plan works in practice.
Because the school is at a busy intersection, Zamorano-Perry plans on installing a fence around the play area. The commission also wanted to see what kind of fencing she planned to install to make sure it does not clash with the historic building.
The commission also asked to see a detailed layout of the outdoor play area, which Zamorano-Perry said would include raised garden beds where children will grow fruit and vegetables in the warm summer months. In the winter, the downstairs will be an open play space with tents, swings and space for yoga so kids can still be physically active when there’s bad weather.
The commission may re-visit the proposal as early as February.
When the building on Memorial Drive was first constructed more than 100 years ago, it was the second library Andrew Carnegie built in Racine — the Racine Heritage Museum’s building at 710 Main St. was the first, built in 1904. It served as Racine Public Library’s Uptown branch until 1988.
Developers bought it in 1990 for $50,000 because it needed significant renovations and asbestos removal. It has served as an office building ever since.
Adam Rogan contributed to this story.