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State plan to close building sparks worry over future of Shattuck Child Care Center in JP

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 12, 2013 05:30 PM

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Leaders of a daycare and early education center at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus in Jamaica Plain say the state plans to shutter the building the center has called home for the past four decades.

The center offers day care and early education to about 40 children between 15 months and 6 years old.

Members of the Shattuck Child Care Center’s board of directors say they have been kept in the dark for months about what the proposed closure will mean for the center. They said they have grown increasingly frustrated and worried, but hope to get some long-awaited answers at a scheduled meeting with state officials on Friday.

“The way the state is going about it is appalling,” said board member Clare Reilly. “We have no real information about whether they’re shutting our center and whether they’re going to help us move to another daycare.”

“We don’t know what to do. And that’s what’s so frustrating. They won’t give us straight answers,” she added.

Several board members, including Reilly, Sarah Griffen, Dennis Tyrell and others who asked not to be named, said they plan to continue to plead with state officials to keep the center located somewhere at the hospital campus – a cause that more than 250 of the hospital’s staff have backed by signing a petition in recent weeks, according to board members.

State officials have declined to comment to the Globe for weeks. On Monday, a spokesman said state officials will not comment until after Friday’s meeting.

Since it was founded 44 years ago, the child care center has been housed in the first floor of one of three buildings on the 13-acre, state-owned hospital campus, which was built in the early 1950s along Morton Street.

The nonprofit and its two dozen board members run the center independently.

The organization receives state support. Three of the center’s nine-person staff of administrators and teachers are state employees and the state does not charge the center for the space it uses, according to board members.

About two-thirds of the child care center’s spots are offered at a reduced rate and reserved for children of employees of the state-run hospital, board members said.

“For the employees of the hospital, the daycare is a huge benefit,” Reilly said. “It’s part of the reason they work here.”

At a meeting in August, the state told the board that it plans to close the building where the center operates because of the facility’s age and condition, board members said.

State officials said the center was important to the hospital and the surrounding community and that they would help to find a new space for the center, according to board members. The state vowed it would not close down the current site until at least one year after a new space was found.

Board members said state officials promised to keep the board involved as it studied the feasibility of relocating the center to another building on the hospital grounds.

“They just made a whole host of promises, and then they just were dead silent,” Reilly said.

Board members said they did not hear again from state officials until another meeting in early January.

At that meeting, board members said, they were was told that the building would close in 18 months and that the state had conducted a feasibility study that found relocating the center elsewhere on the campus would be too expensive.

Board members believe the cost estimates were too high.

“We’ve done some conceptions of our own that have come up with very different numbers,” said Griffen. “We think we could do something that’s more affordable.”

Aside from the disputed, board members said state officials never indicated whether the state would still try to help the center find a new home off campus.

State officials said they would meet again with the board soon to discuss the closure further and that an official, written notice about the closure would be sent out, board members said.

But, numerous calls and e-mails to state officials in the weeks after the January meeting went answered, board members said. They did not receive any communication from state officials until late last week, when Friday’s meeting was scheduled.

Board members said they have been told John Polanowicz, Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, will attend Friday’s meeting and they plan to present the petition hospital staff signed urging the state to find a way to keep the center on the campus.

“We look forward to meeting with him and hope he will help us work toward a solution to keep the center at the hospital,” said Griffen. “We think it makes sense for the state and the center. We want to work with them.”

Board members, several of whom have had their own children attend the center, said the center provides high-quality, affordable day care. They said that the Shattuck Child Care Center has a waiting list of about three years for children whose parents do not work at the hospital.

Griffen has a daughter there now and her son recently graduated. She said she’s sent her children to other child care centers and tried at-home care.

But, “this is experience is hands down, hands down above any other that I’ve had,” she said.

“It’s a community institution,” said Reilly. “There are a ton of people in the Jamaica Plain community who love this place.”

And, “It takes a while to get a daycare slot somewhere else – there are waiting lists everywhere around Boston,” Reilly said.

Tyrell, a psychologist, worked at the Shattuck hospital for about seven years before starting his own practice in 2008.

His two children attended the child care center while he was there. He said center was not what prompted him to get a job at the hospital.

But, “For as long as my kids were there, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to leave,” he said.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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