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Irvine Puts Money Where Mouth Is : While Other Cities Plan, It Opens Child-Care Facility in Civic Center

Times Staff Writer

Beginning last week, Irvine City Hall worker Caroline Germyn has a regular lunch date with a younger man.

Her 4-year-old son, Clayton, is little more than a hop, skip and jump away from Irvine’s new City Hall at the city-sponsored day-care center, called the Irvine Child Development Center.

“This is going to be so convenient,” said Germyn, a Fullerton resident who works in Irvine’s child-care coordination office. “I’ll be spending more time in the morning with him, talking to him in the car on the way down, and I can have lunch with him. . . . I think it’s wonderful.”

The stylish Irvine Child Development Center is believed to be the first day-care center in the state--and one of the first in the nation--to be located at a civic center. And the $1.2-million facility shows that Irvine, long regarded as a leader in child care among cities nationally, has put its money where its mouth is.

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‘Way Ahead of Game’

“Irvine was way ahead of the game for years,” said Beth Manchester of the California Child Care Resource and Referral Network in San Francisco.

Irvine was one of the first cities to set up a child-care committee and to hire a full-time child-care coordinator, she said, “and for a community to say, ‘We are going to develop a center,’ that’s a real major and positive step. . . . It’s unusual and exciting. More and more cities and counties are looking at the need for child care, for their own employees and for the needs of their community.”

There are a few other examples. In Los Angeles, a child-care center for 96 children of city and federal employees is scheduled to open Dec. 1 at City Hall, and a second center for children of city employees should be ready next year, near the Convention Center, a city spokeswoman said.

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In Orange County, La Habra has been channeling state funds into city-sponsored child-care programs for children of low-income families since 1974 and has just added a federally financed Head Start program. The city uses two city-owned buildings, plus the Boys’ Club of La Habra and rented space, according to Faye Campbell, director of child-care services.

Anaheim is considering building a child-care center on city-owned land in the central part of the city and is also working with the school district to develop after-school programs for young children of working parents.

Irvine’s 10,000-square-foot building is designed for 104 children, ages 2 months to 5 years. So far, 63 children are enrolled, but the infant-toddler program (with space for 16 babies ages 2 months to 12 months and 16 toddlers ages 12 months to 24 months) is already filled and has a waiting list.

The center was established for the children of people who live or work in the city. So far about one-quarter of the enrollees are the children of municipal employees--and the children soon will be located just across the parking lot in the still-unfinished new City Hall, scheduled to open later this year.

“They’ll be able to look out their windows and see their kids playing in the playground,” said Gail Nadal, Irvine Child Development Center director, whose 4-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter will attend the day-care center.

Everything about the new center was designed with children in mind. Hallways are framed by triangular ceilings and cylindrical columns, reminiscent of children’s building blocks. Walls are painted in muted primary colors. Rows of pint-sized sinks and toilets line the bathrooms for the older youngsters. There are expansive counters for diaper-changing in the babies’ rooms.

Three separate playgrounds, each appropriate for a different age group, ring the building. A large, covered patio will allow the older kids to let off steam outside on rainy days, Nadal said. For infants, there is an indoors “wet area,” a gated area with a drain in the floor where babies can play with water or gooey substances.

But there is more to a day-care center than a building and toys. There will be a ratio of more teachers to students than the state requires for preschools. Nadal said all teachers have bachelor’s or master’s degrees in education. The center’s educational philosophy will not push academics but instead will stress development through play, allowing the children to run, climb, assemble puzzles, throw balls, draw and pursue other interests.

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Learning to Cook

A large kitchen will even allow teachers to show their charges how to bake cookies, because children of two-career households probably do not get to do that at home often, Nadal said.

“Children learn through play. If you give them a good foundation, when they enter kindergarten they’ll soar,” Nadal said.

Monthly tuition ranges from $375 for 4-year-olds to $550 for infants, which is considered comparable to day-care centers in the area. Run by a private, nonprofit corporation, the center will pay no rent to the city and will devote the funds to increased staffing, said Nancy Noble, Irvine’s child care coordinator.

Irvine, the ultra-planned community, originally forgot to plan for child care. In 1979, the City Council appointed a child-care committee to work for the development of more family day-care and child-care centers in the city, and to encourage businesses to address the child-care needs of workers.

“And then we thought that if the city was trying to encourage other employers, the city should be a model,” Noble said. “So the idea (of a city child-care center) was born and nurtured.”

When the new civic center was financed with a bond package, the child-care center was included.

In December, the City Council adopted a comprehensive child-care policy, setting a goal of providing safe, affordable, quality child care by 1992 to everyone who lives or works in the city. It is estimated that 3,000 to 5,000 children will need day care by that time, Noble said.

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The Irvine Child Development Center is not the only new facility in the city. Earlier this year, a city-sponsored center for 45 children was opened in the Heritage Park area, operated by nearby Irvine Valley College. On Monday, a Montessori center for 180 children will open at UC Irvine for students, staff members and faculty.

In addition, a consortium of businesses is looking into opening a child-care center for about 200 children at the temporary City Hall, once the municipal employees move into the new civic center, Noble said.

Improves Morale All Round

For employers, the benefits of assuring adequate, good-quality child care to employees are well documented, said Dennis Hudson, owner and principal of Child Care Planning Associates, a consulting firm in Irvine. Dependable child care cuts tardiness, absenteeism and turnover, increases productivity, enhances recruitment and improves morale “very definitely, and not just among parents,” Hudson said.

Providing child care aid is going to be the norm for employers in the near future because most people entering the work force will be women of childbearing age, he said. It is cheaper for an employer to retain good employees by offering child care benefits than it is to lose employees and continually retrain the newly hired, he said.

“Ten or 15 years from now, child care will be a necessity (as an employee benefit), like cafeterias and parking lots,” Hudson said. “Forty, 50 years ago, who would have thought we’d have the big parking lots we have today? That’s how it will be with child care. A necessity.”


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