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State to stop subsidizing Shattuck Child Care Center, threatening survival of 44-year-old nonprofit

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  March 25, 2013 02:54 PM

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The state plans to stop giving financial support to a daycare and early education center at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital campus in Jamaica Plain, threatening the survival of the center the state has subsidized since its founding 44 years ago.

The Shattuck Child Care Center offers day care and early education to 45 children between 15 months and 6 years old. The private, nonprofit is run by a two-dozen member board of directors.

The state recently notified the board it plans to shutter the state-owned building that houses the child care center on June 30, 2014 because the facility is deteriorating.

Without that building, which has provided the center with free space, the state can no longer afford to back the center, officials said.

The state also plans to cease all other support it gives to the center, including staffing, but officials have not yet decided when that will happen.

Board members are pleading for more time to create a new business model that will keep the center afloat without public support and to explore options to keep the center located at the hospital campus.

“I understand that we shouldn’t be getting more support than anyone else in the state. That’s a fair decision,” said board member Clare Reilly. “But I don’t think it’s reasonable to, after 44 years, give us a year and then kick us out with no chance to try to become an independent, viable organization. It’s not something we can do over night.”

“There are options,” she added. “They could compromise if they wanted to.”

More than 250 hospital workers have signed a petition asking for the center to stay on campus. Hospital employees pay significantly reduced rates – subsidized by the state – to send their children to the center.

The state also spends about $175,000 in annual salaries, not including employee benefits, to pay for the equivalent of about three of the center’s nine-person staff.

The decision to stop subsidizing the center “was not made lightly,” said Alec Loftus, a spokesman for the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

The center was established as a way to recruit workers to the hospital by providing reduced-rate child care for employees, he said. The original intention was to have the most or all of the slots filled by children of hospital staff.

Now only a little more than half of the spots are filled by children of hospital employees, according to Loftus

The rest of the spots are filled by families who live nearby but do not work on the campus, he said. Those families pay a higher rate than hospital employees, but the cost is still lower than most other day cares in the area.

Still, Loftus said, the primary factor in the state’s decision is that the building the center uses is no longer suitable to keep open.

The center uses about 3,900 square feet on the first-floor of a 10-story, 100,000 square foot facility known as the “Personnel Building.”

The building has “many deficiencies,” Loftus said.

Some stairs are deteriorating and buckling; the building does not fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act; extensive repairs or replacement are needed for the roof, elevators, electrical, plumbing, fire prevention and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system, he said.

The state plans to mothball the six-decade-old building next summer because it is in poor condition, he said. There is no expectation the building will ever be reused. Renovations would be too costly to make sense. Studies recommend demolishing the building, Loftus said.

Other uses in the facility – including emergency health services, human resources, rehabilitation programs, administrative offices and record and equipment storage – have already relocated, or soon will relocate, to the campus’ main hospital building.

Decommissioning the building is part of a master plan being developed for the 13-acre, state-owned hospital campus, which was built in the early 1950s along Morton Street. But state officials declined to comment about other aspects of the plan.

The state plans to work with the center as it transitions, including exploring where the center might be able to move to on the hospital campus and what it would cost the center to take such a space.

“But there is currently no location identified that would allow them to easily relocate on campus,” Loftus said.

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.

Sarah Griffen has a daughter at the center 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.

Reilly said she knows some hospital staff who work there, at least in part, to get their children a spot in the center.

“For the employees of the hospital, the daycare is a huge benefit,” she said

Dennis 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.

Reilly said the state’s decision seems hypocritical of Governor Deval Patrick’s recent push for increased funding for early education programs, which calls for providing universal access early education by reducing the state’s early education waiting list, which currently has 30,000 children on it.

“The governor is saying one thing and his staff is doing the exact opposite,” she said.

“This is a high quality, highly respected child care center in the community, and it’s been known to be for years,” Reilly said. “It’s exactly what we should be duplicating. It’s a model for other daycare centers.”

The state plans to give formal notice in August telling the center it must move out by the end of next June.

Board members said they were told previously that the center would not be required to move out until at least one year after the center had found a new space to move to.

State officials first told the center’s board that the building would close this past August.

But, for months after, board members said they were kept in the dark about what that would mean for the center.

They said state officials gave vague explanations and answers at two different meetings, while promising to get back to them and keep them involved as decisions were made. The board members said state officials did not respond to numerous emails and phone calls in between the meetings.

State officials declined to comment to the Globe for weeks about the situation.

Then, state officials arranged a third meeting with the board. After that meeting was held earlier this month, state officials began to provide answers to the Globe.

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