Aspiring to reach new heights on Franklin Street in Lynn

From left, state Rep. Daniel Cahill, EDIC Executive Director James Cowdell, Board Chair for Aspire Developmental Services Annie Walsh, state Sen. and Lynn mayoral candidate Thomas M. McGee, Aspire Executive Director Lori Russell, Massachusetts First Lady Lauren Baker, state Rep. Brendan Crighton, and Children's Investment Fund member Theresa Jordan were on hand for the ribbon cutting of Aspire's new facility on Franklin Street in Lynn. (Spenser Hasak)

LYNN — The $4.5 million transformation of the former O’Keefe Alternative School on Franklin Street into a state-of-the-art early education center for Aspire Developmental Services is complete.

“We have gone from a very small program to a program triple the size,” said Aspire’s executive director Lori Russell.

All services will be moved from the former location on Johnson Street to the bright new facility mid-November. Before the renovation, the halls were dark and the windows were small, said Russell.

“It’s now everything that our clients and staff hoped for and everything our board envisioned,” she said.

The building, which was built in 1900 and was on the brink of demolition, was purchased in August 2015 for $750,000 by Aspire Developmental Services. An adjacent lot was purchased for $141,000 to create a parking lot. Construction began a year ago.

Aspire has been serving children with developmental needs and their families since 1951. It provided services to more than 1,950 children in 10 local communities in 2016.

The project received a huge boost last summer when the organization won a $1 million grant from the Community Economic Development Assistance Corp. (CEDAC), the Boston-based community development finance agency that assists nonprofits, in partnership with the Children’s Investment Fund, a CEDAC affiliate. More than $1 million was raised in a capital campaign.

Aspire’s mission is to provide early intervention services to children up to the age of three. Children served are eligible for a variety of reasons, including Down syndrome, autism, hearing and vision loss, speech and motor delays, and mental health issues.

The nonprofit now has 15,000 square feet of space, triple its home on Johnson Street. The new building will allow Aspire to provide twice as many play groups for children receiving early intervention services, and space for parent training.

The preschool program expanded from 20 students to 40, and a toddler class was added with space for nine students, said Russell.

“I am blown away by how cool this facility is,” said first lady of Massachusetts Lauren Baker. “We know how important early childhood intervention is for all children. A quality early childhood education can make a huge difference in children’s lives. Aspire is a shining star of an example of how this can work. It’s a thrill for me to be here to share it with you.”

Baker said she has learned a lot about the importance of the kind of work the organization provides, especially for the state’s most vulnerable children.

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