Downtown Childcare Crosses the Street

December 1, 1997

Judith Zwolak

This month, the medical center's childcare center takes one small step from its front door and one giant step for kiddy care in the Central Business District. The center moves from its current location in Hawthorne Hall to the ground floor of the building directly across Saratoga Street, 127 Elk Place.

In January, the center will also begin admitting children of workers in the CBD not affiliated with the university, through an agreement with the Downtown Development District, an organization that promotes business and revitalization activities in the downtown area.

"This is a huge project," says Laurie Richter, who has been the center's director since it opened in 1989. "We're moving into a space almost five times larger than we're in now."

The new 12,000-square-foot space in Elk Place can accommodate 200 children from the ages of 6 weeks to 5 years. Plans are to reserve 75 of these slots for children of Tulane employees and students and fill the remaining 125 slots with children of other CBD employees through a corporate sponsorship program. At the Hawthorne Hall site, the center had space for 42 children, all of Tulane employees and students.

"It's a neat, neat building," Richter says of 127 Elk Place. "We are revitalizing this space." The center includes separate rooms for infants, toddlers and older children, each equipped with adult- and child-sized sinks. All rooms but the infant rooms have individual bathrooms to prevent children from having to walk down the hall. The center also plans to wire the building for computer access to the Internet.

Richter says the children are split into groups based on their developmental age, not their birth date. Besides infants, the three other groups consist of children of the developmental ages 1 and 2, 2 and 3, and 3 through 5. To allow interaction between the groups, the rooms are separated by four-foot walls with safety railings, says Richter.

"The low walls give the center a more open, lighter appearance," she says.

For safety reasons, Richter adds, the center is a completely closed unit within the building and has only one entrance, which is accessed by a key card. Parents can drive into a small parking area on the Cleveland Avenue side of the building and drop off their children from 6:30 to 9 a.m.

After the drop-off time, the paved area becomes a playground for pre-schoolers until 3:30 p.m., when the area reverts to a parking area for parents picking up their children. The other half of the 8,000-square-foot parking area is converted into a permanent playground for infants and toddlers and has a crushed-rubber surface. Richter says the current staff of 12 will grow as the number of children enrolled in the center increases.

Staff-to-child ratios will follow guidelines developed by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), a national accrediting board for childcare programs. The center is accredited by this organization, a position held by "very few centers in the state," says Richter. She also serves as a member of NAEYC's Accreditation Commission Decision Panel, which monitors the group's accreditation decisions.

The childcare costs at the center are $95 per week for infants and toddlers and $90 for older children. A $50 registration fee is also required. The center will hold an open house in late December. The center's number is 587-7479. Other medical center units moving into 127 Elk Place in early 1998 include the offices of grants and contracts, financial services, personnel services and payroll, says Ray Newman, vice chancellor of administration and finance.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000