Frances E. Willard’s legacy lives on in Tacoma.
Thursday night, the Tacoma School Board officially changed the name of Willard Elementary School to the Willard Early Learning Center to reflect a new mission for the old school building.
The school, at 3201 S. D St., which overlooks I-5, had been empty for several years. In 2011, the school district placed it on a list of surplus properties it intended to sell.
But earlier this year, the district took it off the surplus list so that it could house preschool programs.
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Willard was the first school in Tacoma named to honor a woman, who was a national leader in both the suffrage and temperance movements.
The original Willard building, built in 1899, was located at the intersection of South 32nd and C streets. But the 1949 earthquake damaged the school, and a new structure was built at the current location in 1952.
The Willard Early Learning Center now houses two preschools along with other services, including the school district’s ChildFind program, which offers free screening clinics aimed at early identification of children with disabilities.
The preschools are free for qualified low-income children. They offer learning programs aimed at getting kids ready for kindergarten. Children get a meal and a snack, along with health and social services supports.
There is also space available at the Willard center for private nonprofit organizations that want to provide services to children.
The center, which opened in September, is the first of what the school district hopes will be a series of centers throughout the city that offer services to families with preschoolers.