$6.9M bond allows LEO inc. to expand childcare services

February 25, 2024 : Lynn Daily Item, Sidnee Short

LYNN — LEO inc., both a nonprofit charitable organization and a community action agency, recently received a $6.9 million tax-exempt bond from MassDevelopment and Eastern Bank to help renovate and convert its former headquarters at 156 Broad St. into a preschool for children aged 3-5.

“LEO (Inc.) has been engaged in this redevelopment activity for a couple of years now. … The building has been completely emptied and demolished on the interior all the way down to like the brick exterior walls,” said Lisa McFadden, director of development and communications for LEO Inc. “When it’s completed, that property … will be a dedicated preschool campus for our 3-to 5-year-olds’ Head Start classrooms.”

The organization’s website states that Head Start is a preschool program that “prepares low-income children ages 3 to 5 for kindergarten.”

“There’s such a need for early childhood education and care in Lynn, that for us, the ability to expand our capacity was a top priority here,” McFadden said.

Currently, McFadden said the agency has two facilities dedicated to early education for preschool-aged children, and one facility for pregnant mothers and for children under 3. The renovated building will merge the two facilities for early education, putting all the students, teachers, and specialists under one roof. The younger children will continue to go to their known facility.

McFadden said the plan is to enroll 18 students per classroom, with at least two teachers in each class. The total capacity for the renovated school will be 270 students, or almost 40 students more than the agency’s current capacity.

The organization has a wait list for its educational programs that fluctuate between 250-350 children.

“One of the things that we pride ourselves on at LEO (Inc.) is our commitment to prioritizing children and families who have the greatest need. Whether it is diagnosed or undiagnosed special needs, development delays,” McFadden said. “Our goal as an agency is to make sure that we’re there for families and households that have the greatest level of need.”

A news release from MassDevelopment said that the three-story school will house 15 classrooms, two playgrounds, a commercial kitchen and nutrition center, gross motor room for indoor preschool activities, and multipurpose room for parent education and community meetings. The entire building will be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessible as well.

“The addition on the back of the building is allowing us to put in a brand new fully accessible elevator and a second fire-rated stairwell for the building which is necessary for that number of (people) in the building,” McFadden said. “It’s going to allow our main entrance to be at ground level and directly adjacent to our parking lot and playground. So, when children and families come in, they won’t need to navigate any stairs, the accessibility to the building is just going to be tremendously improved by that addition.”

Demolition began in June 2023, and the grand opening is anticipated to take place in January 2025.

McFadden said the total cost of the project is $18.1 million, with the agency committing $13.3 million so far. Donations are currently being accepted on the agency’s website,

“We think that the value of what happens inside the building is gonna be greater than the sum of its parts,” McFadden said.