New childhood development center readies for August opening

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UC Berkeley cut the ribbon to its fifth early childhood education center to much fanfare Wednesday, in advance of the center’s opening to 42 youngsters in August.

The $4.9 million Dwight Way Child Development Center is set to open on time and less than one percent over budget. The new center increases the capacity of the campus’ Early Childhood Education Program, designed to provide care to young children of faculty, staff and students, to 256 children.

Elisa Stone, director of the Cal Teach program on campus, watched as her 17-month-old daughter, Rainer Stone, went up and down a slide in one of the toddler program rooms. Rainer will be switching from the program’s Clark Kerr location to the Dwight Way center.

“It’s a great new space. It’s beautiful, and I think it will be a great environment for her,” Stone said. “What excites me about the ECEP program in general is the commitment to having children explore and learning through exploration and discovery.”

The environmentally friendly center features four program rooms and an outdoor play yard. The rooms have a variety of slides, play materials and beds for napping, along with grassy and sand areas outside. The building will serve up to 18 infants and 24 toddlers. The center is fourth largest among the other childhood development centers in terms of capacity.

Building architects Susi Marzuola and Marjorie Smith said security was a priority when designing the 6,650 sq. ft. complex. Marzuola said the building is designed in a reversed “L” shape so the play space is removed from the parking lot and the street.

“It’s a constrained space, that was indeed the case, and we went through a number of different configurations trying to figure out what the most efficient approach was,” Marzuola said.

LeNorman Strong, associate vice chancellor overseeing Residential & Student Service Programs, said having a quality early childhood program helps in recruiting the top faculty and students to the campus.

Strong said that the childcare program also helps faculty with their research on human development.

“We recruit the world’s best scholars as faculty, as students, and we know that providing quality child care enables them to then do their best work. They aren’t worried about the care their children receive,” Strong said.

Strong said that ideally the capacity for the program would expand by another 100 slots, but research will likely be done in the future to determine how much more capacity is needed. The Dwight Way center replaces the now closed Girton Hall childhood facility and further bumps the capacity by eight slots.

Still, even if the program were to be expanded, Strong said funding more child care could be an issue.

“How are we going to keep the costs of childcare affordable?” Strong said. “Right now there are no direct subsidies from the university that come to support our operations.”

According to Mary-Ann Spencer Cogan, director of Organizational and Child Care Services on campus, childcare and early education for an infant can cost nearly $25,000 for a full year.

Unsubsidized costs for the learning program run upwards of $2,000 for infants per month and more than $1,800 per month for toddlers. Students with need are eligible for free or reduced costs.

“These are Cal’s youngest students,” Spencer Cogan said. “A lot of people think of this as daycare. This is more than daycare. If you teach a child how to think, how to explore, how to discover and how to maintain that natural inquisitiveness — that’s a skill that’s lifelong and that’s what our program is about.”

Mitchell Handler covers academics and administration. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @mitchellhandler.