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Daycare Center Opening Delayed

By Colleen Chandler
August 2005

Dona McNeill
Dona McNeill in the new child care center on the EPA campus. (Photo by Colleen Chandler)

The new daycare center opening date was pushed back to September as construction teams work to complete the $3.6 million facility. It previously was scheduled to open after the July 4 weekend.

Dona McNeill, administrative officer in charge of the NIEHS portion of the project, said she and other planners could have chosen a simpler design for the building and grounds. However, she is confident the new facility will be worth the wait. She said the facility is designed to stimulate a child physically, creatively and intellectually.

The flooring reminds you of a Family Circle cartoon that shows kids curiously meandering as they explore the environment around them. Instead of square tiles aligned in a linear fashion, the floor of this building is made from large pieces of tile with colored circular patterns that seem to deliberately lead young minds from one location to another.

"The layout makes good sense," McNeill said. Near the main entrance is a room for the smallest babies. Across the hallway is a room for older babies. Down the adjoining hallway are the toddler classrooms in graduating age groups up through preschool. The open floor plan allows children to see into other areas, which will be more familiar to them when the time comes to move up.

McNeill said some modifications - like shatter -proof glass at a cost of about $122,000 - were added to the original plans. Construction on the new home for the First Environments Early Learning Center began nearly two years ago. The daycare center now operates at the old NIEHS North Campus.

Besides the bells and whistles modern child care centers require - toy sterilizers, keypad front door access, state-of-the-art security and fire monitoring systems, and internet connections - the building is designed so it is easy to monitor what is happening in the classrooms. Frosted glass walls with circles of clear glass divide the classrooms from the hallways. The clear circles allow parents standing outside a room to see nearly everything happening inside the room. McNeill said each classroom will have a door leading to an outside play area. The exterior walls facing the outdoor play areas feature huge windows spanning nearly floor to ceiling. The building features high ceilings, using as much natural lighting as possible.

NIEHS and EPA share the daycare center, with the federal government providing facilities, equipment and utilities. McNeill and her counterpart at the EPA act as liaisons between the agencies' management and a five-member board of parents elected to set policy and govern operation of the daycare center. Fees paid by parents - as well as raised by them - cover other costs such as salaries, staff training and insurance. Staff turnover at the center has always been low, and all the lead teachers have college degrees, McNeill said.

The center has hired a cook from Whole Foods to prepare meals using more fresh foods. The daycare center will have a greenhouse and a garden. The cook will work with staff to plan the garden, making good use of the food produced there, McNeill said.

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