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All This Day-Care Center Needs Is Kids : Children: The Scott Child Development Center has a state-of-the-art facility and toys and books galore. Yet only 22 of the 88 slots available are filled.

The Margaret Bundy Scott Child Development Center seems to have everything: A state-of-the-art building, a large, inviting playground, classic books and toys galore and a well-educated staff.

All the $1.7 million Pasadena facility needs now is children.

Opened in January by the Boys Clubs of Pasadena, the center is licensed for 88 children but only 22 are enrolled.

“We’re losing a lot of money up there,” said Robert Monk, executive director of the Boys Clubs of Pasadena, which is incorporated as a nonprofit organization affiliated with the Boys Clubs of America. “Or maybe I should say we’re contributing a lot to the community.”

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Ironically, the new wood-and-glass building, with six child-friendly classrooms, sun-splashed sandboxes and Danish play equipment, sits three-fourths empty in the heart of a community where quality day care is desperately needed.

The Scott center, named after a longtime Pasadena resident who bequeathed a trust fund to her favorite local charities, is the first preschool in the country built by a Boys Club, Monk said. “I’m looking for reasons why, with a $1.7 million building, it’s not immediately full,” he said.

For one thing, child-care experts say, the center charges more than many people in the surrounding Northwest Pasadena neighborhood can afford: $340 per child per month.

“They’re expensive,” said Carolyn Devlin, executive director of the Child Care Information Service, a private, nonprofit agency that operates a resource and referral agency for child care in the West San Gabriel Valley.

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The location, in a beleaguered section of North Fair Oaks Avenue, also hurts, she said.

“People who have lived in that area don’t want their kids there, people who don’t live in the area don’t like it (the area), and people who do live there can’t afford it,” Devlin said. “They need subsidized slots and they need lots of them if they’re going to get kids to fill those spaces.”

Low-priced day care for low- to middle-income families, especially those headed by single parents, is a crucial need, she said. “The people in San Marino can hire housekeepers or nannies for their kids and the really low-income people have some subsidized care. But it’s the lower- to mid-income range kids who are really being neglected. Child care is where a lot of the cuts in the (family) budget are made,” she said.

Budgets were not the primary concern when the Scott center was being designed and built, Monk said. The center was constructed as a model preschool, with all the facilities--sinks, easels, even the windows--at a child’s level.

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“The builders couldn’t believe it when they saw where the windows were. They thought they had put the walls in upside down,” said Jeanette Couture, manager of the center.

The school has a full commercial kitchen that serves breakfast, lunch and a snack, and a curriculum designed to help expand the youngsters’ love of learning. On site is a 100-gallon saltwater aquarium that is home to purple, orange and electric-blue fish with names like Steve, Leon and Elsie.

Facilities like that, and a college-educated staff, don’t come cheaply, Monk said.

The center has set aside $10,000 for tuition assistance for low-income families during the first six months of operation and $25,000 for the year after that, he said.

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Couture said that there are three students currently receiving tuition assistance, paying $40 a week. Another three students are siblings of attendees and automatically receive a discount lowering the weekly fee from $85 to $65, Monk said.

The center’s manager said she has had numerous calls from parents who want to enroll their children but cannot pay full price. “I keep them on a waiting list in a file,” she said. The center depends on full-paying students for its operating expenses, and must enroll more of them before additional tuition assistance can be given out, Couture added.

Monk said the center was built through private donations, including $500,000 from the trust fund endowed by Scott, and will not seek funding through government subsidies.

“We’d rather have a sliding scale and consider the requests for assistance based on what these families are doing to improve their situation,” Monk said. Requests from single mothers who need child care so they can work or from parents who are getting an education would be given priority, he said.

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Although Couture points out that other Pasadena preschools charge as much or more than the Scott center, a 1989 survey of Pasadena city employees showed that the average family paid $62 weekly--$248 a month--for preschool child care, said Lara Blakely, program coordinator for Pasadena’s Child Care Project.

She also said a 1987 city child-care report, which concluded that 3,000 more child-care spaces would be needed in the Pasadena area by 1993, may have been faulty. The figures used in that report included other surrounding communities, and were probably overstated for Pasadena, she said.

Monk said he relied on those projections when he recommended that the Boys Clubs build a preschool for children ages 2 1/2 to 5.

Alyce McCarroll, human resources and child-care coordinator of the Girls’ Club in Pasadena, said her group also used those figures when it opened a preschool on North Lake Avenue, which has room for 41 students but is not quite half full after a year in operation.

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“No one indicated to us the ages of the children that needed to be served,” McCarroll said. “I did an independent survey and found that there were openings in quite a few (preschool) centers and became convinced we had targeted the wrong age group.”

Blakely said the most critical child-care need now is in the area of infant care, which is difficult to provide because of strict state regulations for infant centers, and it is expensive because of increased staffing needs. The other crucial need is for so-called “surround care,” which provides parents with a safe place for their school-aged children before and after school hours and eliminates the problem of “latchkey kids,” who are alone for hours each day until their parents return from work.

The timing of the Scott center’s opening--in January--also seems to have hurt enrollment. Couture said most parents make child-care arrangements in the fall and keep their children in the same facility through summer.

Monk, however, said he believes enrollment will continue to build slowly. “I think there’s no question it’s going to be up,” he said.

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“I anticipate that the big test will be enrollment for September,” Blakely said. “I think that’s when they really should see what needs have to be met.”

Klein is a regular contributor to San Gabriel Valley View.


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