The Early Learning Center for Research and Practice began in 1927 as a nursery school program operating in the Home Economics Building as an outgrowth of child care courses begun in 1922. In 1937 a new nursery school building opened at 1206 White Avenue, which is in use within the program today.
The nursery school became known as Child Development Laboratories around the time (1966) that the day care program for preschoolers was begun at the Golf Range Married Student Housing location. In 1983 the special education component was added to the preschool program, and the program converted to a full-time, 12-month schedule in 1986.
The Cumberland Child Care facility started in 1987 as a child care center for children of employees, was added to the portfolio of the Department of Child and Family Studies in 1989, and was restructured as a Child Development Laboratory in 1991, making three locations (White Avenue, Golf Range, and Cumberland Avenue) of Child Development Laboratories. In 2000 the Cumberland Avenue location was closed, and its programs relocated to newly renovated space in Laurel Apartments to allow construction of the Eleventh Street parking garage.
In 2005 the Child Development Laboratories became the University of Tennessee Early Learning Center for Research and Practice, with a stated mission to “foster scientific understanding of young children’s development.”
When Laurel Apartments were to be closed for renovation, a new facility to house the programs that had been at Laurel was required. A variety of options were considered, but the Facility Services team, led by Executive Director Mike Sherrell, determined that the most efficient (and quickest) way to replace the function was to build a new facility. Facilities Services purchased a modular building; assembled it on a parking lot on Lake Avenue; hired a team of about twenty bricklayers to lay eighteen thousand bricks in two days to make the structure similar to other university buildings; created within the structure three classrooms, bathrooms, observation rooms and support spaces, complete with required electrical service, plumbing, and other infrastructure; created an outside playground; repaved the parking lot; installed sidewalks; and moved the furnishings from Laurel Avenue to the new structure on Lake Avenue. The entire project was completed in three weeks.
In 2011, when Golf Range Apartments were razed to provide land for intramural and recreational fields, the Golf Range programs were moved to another new building constructed for the program on Lake Avenue, adjacent to the first one.