- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) - Hope Larsen picked up her daughter, Ellee, at the 2-week-old Children’s Developmental Services building Tuesday afternoon, but not before a fingerprint scan confirmed her identity as Ellee’s parent.

Fingerprint scanners to confirm parents’ identities are just one feature of the new building that helps the staff provide care and special services for Campbell County’s children.

Once renovations are complete on the old building, which is now unofficially known as the center’s west wing, the new construction will almost double the center’s capacity.

Earlene Vandeventer, executive director of Children’s Developmental Services, said tight space in the old part of the building required the agency to get creative to accommodate as many children as possible.

“Due to the high number of children, we had to turn this little storage area into a classroom until we could get the expansion completed,” Vandeventer said.

Windows line the rooms’ southern walls, offering the children natural light. Most rooms have a tantalizing view of the playground, which is still under construction, the Gillette News Record reported (http://tinyurl.com/n929r24).

Of more interest to parents and less interest to the children is the building’s state-of-the-art lockdown system. The rooms also have surveillance cameras and an FM radio system attached to microphones in the ceilings, both for security and to let observers listen in on classroom activities.

Two-way mirrors in the corners divide each classroom from an observation room where parents can see how their children behave in a classroom setting without them present. Child-development students also can see lessons they learn in textbooks play out in real life.

The kids in at least one classroom have taken the two-way mirrors as just another opportunity to learn, said LouAnn McClure, an instructional assistant who has worked at the center for more than 12 years.

“The kids really like the new window,” McClure said. “They figured out they can put their hands up there and see if there’s someone in there. Then they knock. They really love that.”

While the two-way mirrors were not intended as instructional materials for the children, the shape of the classrooms and the layout of the furniture engages them with as many objects as possible as they move through the room, said Bel Christiansen, coordinator of the center’s early childhood program.

Vandeventer said Campbell County’s increasing population growth and birth rate during the last decade caused the crowding in the old part of the building and created the need for new construction.

Between 2000 and 2011, Campbell County’s population grew by almost 13,000 people to more than 46,000, and the birth rate at Campbell County Memorial Hospital grew by 264 births to 785. It peaked in 2009 at 884 births.

Since the children and staff have moved into the center’s new wing, crews now are busy renovating two of the six classrooms in the old wing. Vandeventer said once all six of the old classrooms are renovated in the coming years, the center will be able to serve about twice the number of children enrolled in its programs now.

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Information from: The Gillette (Wyo.) News Record, http://www.gillettenewsrecord.com

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