LAFAYETTE - Researchers who evaluate the education and health of the state's most valuable resources - its children - moved into their new nearly $6 million home in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Research Park last week.

The Cecil J. Picard Center for Childhood Development and Lifelong Learning joined the university in 2005 with its staff separated by the logistics of available office space.

For the first time in six years, its researchers are now under the same roof and they're not alone.

The center is now also home to related departments: counselor education, psychology, gifted education, education foundation and leadership, and the Center for Innovative Learning and Assessment Technology.

The move of his department to the new building offers not only needed space, but access to new technology - and like-minded researchers, said Irv Esters, director of the university's counselor education program.

"It creates a synergy when you have people who have similar goals," said Esters.

The program was previously located in Foster Hall and no lab space was available for students' counseling sessions.

Esters said the department relied on community partners willing to offer office space for the students' practical training.

Now, the department has six labs, including group therapy and play therapy rooms. Each lab space is equipped with digital camera equipment allowing faculty to easily access students' sessions. Esters now even has the ability to monitor all six rooms from his office.

Esters said he's also excited not only about the opportunities for collaboration within the building, but also with neighbors: the University Medical Center's Family Medicine Clinic and the university's preschool lab school.

Proximity will make research partnerships easier, said Kasey Patin, a research assistant at the Picard Center. Patin's office was formerly located across the parking lot from the new Picard Center at the LITE Center.

"I think collaboration is going to be necessary," Patin said. "We're in the same building. How could we not collaborate?"

The building has a technology center that features data tables with hidden, pop-up, flat-screen monitors and will be a hub of collaboration for the building's researchers, said Lana Fontenot, the center's marketing and public relations director.

The building also has the Rockhold Distance Learning Center, named for major donor Loyd Rockhold, a Baton Rouge philanthropist who died in November. The learning center seats up to 200 people and can be separated into two or four rooms. Fontenot said the space will be used for the center's summits and possibly classroom space.

The center carries on the legacy of the former state superintendent of education, Picard, who died in 2007.

Its research areas include early childhood, K-12 education, school-based health, poverty's effects on families and lifelong learning. The center is also the evaluator of the state's public preschool program, created by Picard in 2001, to prepare disadvantaged children for kindergarten.

Just off the building's lobby is a data analysis room - or what Picard envisioned as the center's "war room."

Walls in the room will soon be covered in data screens to track the health and education of the state's children.

The building's library pays tribute to Picard and will include a museum-quality exhibit of his life and contributions to the state.

Fontenot said the center envisions that the memorial library and exhibit will become a field trip destination for students.

Another feature soon to be added to the building is a bronze bust of Rockhold.

A bronze sculpture of Picard seated on a bench reading to two children is planned for the front of the building.

Both pieces of artwork are to "pay tribute to the two men who made this center a reality," Fontenot said.

She said the public will have a chance to visit the center later this fall during a grand opening celebration.