Imagine the all-inclusive benefits of an Ivy League campus — from decked athletic and advanced educational facilities to fully outfitted event spaces and services catering to every need.
Kidz University, a mega-community youth complex, will deliver all of that and more to the Killeen community beginning this fall.
The project is the vision of army veteran and founder Daniel Lemon and his wife, Denise.
“Adults are able to go to great universities and on those campuses, they have almost everything they need,” Lemon said. “I thought why can’t kids have the same opportunity? I wanted to create a campus, a one-stop shop for kids.”
The complex at 4205 Old Florence Road is a sprawling development that boasts a STEM lab, a creative arts studio, media room, a library, and a 3,000-square-foot cafeteria called Kraves, among other facilities. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.
There is also an event space that includes two separate studios, which will be used for dance classes, karate lessons and other activities.
Lemon also has a goal of adding other elements to the property, with the groundwork begun for a learning academy for toddlers, a special education facility, a space dedicated to a girls’ program and more.
“KU is about planting seeds and nurturing them,” Denise Lemon said.
“I think it’s amazing to see all the work in progress,” she said of the complex the couple began constructing in 2015.
The grand opening of Kidz University is slated to take place in August.
Initial enrollment fees for children ages 6 through 12 will be modest, traditional after-school program rates, Lemon said.
He also said he will continue to add events and programs for other age groups as funding becomes available and construction is finished, with the goal to have the entire complex completed by 2020.
“Lastly, we also have the goal to build a 20,000-square-foot gymnasium,” Lemon said. “But we need the community’s support to finish this project.”
The Lemons are currently funding the Kidz University complex personally, through their business, Unique Child Development Center, a successful after-school program that sprung from Denise Lemon’s experience in child care.
They hope to ultimately create a nonprofit, the Circle of Hope Foundation, to fund KU and to align with others in the local community, such as private investors, sports teams, organizations and businesses, to expand upon the programs at the complex, or as Lemon calls it “the KU Field of Dreams.”
“The reason why I had to build everything you see without really the city of Killeen or without the people in the community really knowing we exist is because I wanted a place at the table to say, ‘Hey community, this is for our kids. What else can we do to make our community more powerful than it already is?’” Lemon said.
Councilwoman Shirley Fleming recently toured Kidz University and said she was moved to tears by her visit and deeply touched by the KU mission.
“As a citizen, as a mother and as a city council person — I think this is one of the best projects to ever come to Killeen,” said Fleming, who also said she believes the complex will find support among locals willing to open their hearts. “It’s all about the kids. It is a business for the future.”
She said she feels KU will have a powerful impact on the community, creating a safe haven for children and noted that the special education program was particularly valuable to the city.
“I can see the vision,” Fleming said. “I have asked the mayor to take a tour.”
Lemon said he will offer public tours of the new facility in coming weeks before the grand opening.
He also said he hopes the complex will set an example for the community and beyond.
“KU is more than just an after-school program,” Lemon said. “It’s a platform for our community to come and utilize. KU is creating an alliance in our community so we understand how we can better take care of our kids if we work together.”