Prairie's newest campus addition is a true community effort.

The ooh’s and aah’s have been audible all fall. Not so much because the kids are busy daydreaming about the finished product – that’s what the teachers are doing – but because when you’re little, seeing a worker balancing on a long metal beam or a saw shooting sparks is pretty awesome.

And while students in the Prairie’s current Early School wing are content enjoying a front row construction show through their classroom windows, before long it will be time to cut a ribbon and fill some cubbies.

Construction of the new Leipold Johnson Early Childhood Center remains on schedule – click here to see drone footage of the progress – and with the doors set to open next fall, the Center will immediately become the new home for Prairie’s three, four, and five-year-old learners.

In this beautiful, sun-filled space, alphabets will be recited and shapes will be snipped. The new building will offer students and teachers a LOT more space to learn and play, to eat and sing. (The occasional nap would be okay, too.) Currently, the school’s Early School Program – which will include a fourth section starting next year – shares the easternmost wing on campus with Kindergarten and 1st Grade. It’s a busy place where space is often the most precious commodity.

“This new building will allow students the larger environment needed to ignite their curiosity,” says Terie Carpenter, Senior Early School teacher. “More room to move throughout our centers, exploring, questioning, investigating, collaborating, creating, and reflecting. These are essential skills when building a young child’s social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development.”

In preschool parlance, consider the new Leipold Johnson Early Childhood Center – and all the learning inside – one of the most important building blocks on campus.


Andrea Bukacek ’03 knows a thing or two about building. And success. And building success. As President of the Bukacek Construction Group, a proud Prairie alumna and current parent (her first grade daughter is a member of the TPS Class of 2032), she’ll be the first to tell you about the importance of a strong foundation.  

Earlier this fall, Bukacek visited campus to meet with the Early School, Kindergarten, and 1st Grade classes. She talked about different details of the job and answered questions about how many bricks (over 40,000) and how much concrete (over 140,000 pounds poured at the time of her visit) it took to make the new building. 

“Prairie is woven into the fabric of my life,” says Bukacek. “It’s an honor, as both an alumna and current parent, to be a part of this next chapter of growth. I take a lot of pride in knowing the legacy of the Leipold Johnson Early Childhood Center will help further Prairie’s mission for generations to come.”

After the building’s design plans were finalized by Zimmerman Architectural Studios earlier this year, Bukacek Construction broke ground in June. Prairie has maintained long relationships with both companies, and the school’s leadership – and the self-appointed supervisors in the Early School wing – have been beyond pleased with the progress.

“It was so awesome that Andrea visited campus to meet with the kids,” says Susan Holum, Head of Primary School. “They have really loved watching the work happen outside the windows. And everyone felt really important that they walked away with their own replica hard hat.”

Science tells us these young minds, and these formative years, are exactly that: really important. A time of learning to use your imagination. Learning to form relationships. Learning to discover new interests. 

And now all of it will happen inside a new building that has been a community effort in every sense of the word.