Penn Children's Center:
Plans for Relocation and Expansion
For more than a decade, the Penn Children's Center (PCC) has been an important resource and a source of pride on the University of Pennsylvania campus. Today the center stands as one of the premier daycare facilities in the Delaware Valley and holds the prestigious NAEYC accreditation. Serving children ages 12 weeks to five years, its focus on multicultural programs and its child-centered approach to education make it a unique, widely respected center. Some of the classrooms have relocated to temporary space at 43rd and Spruce Streets, effective January 3, in preparation of the construction of the new University-assisted public school on the former Divinity School site. Currently, PCC has a capacity for 76 children on a full-time basis. Its waiting list is over 80 children long with over 40 children on the infant list alone. Demand for high quality child-care is extremely high in the University and West Philadelphia community
With the current changes on Penn's campus, including the opening of the new University-assisted K-8 school on the current PCC site, the University has taken an opportunity to review the progress made to date and to consider the future of PCC. Sites to relocate the existing program were sparse and extremely expensive to renovate. A very feasible plan to lease space in the Newman Center at 37th and Chestnut unfortunately fell through. After a year of intense planning and research, it was determined that new construction might be the right approach. The current surface parking lot site at 33rd and Chestnut Street was identified for possible construction of the new center. Unfortunately the costs to build a new center on that site exceeded $6 million so the project was not undertaken. Finally in December, a very exciting and suitable location was identified for PCC. The development of the former GE building at 31st and Chestnut Streets into luxury apartments, retail and office space provides an excellent location for the center.
Providing a consistently high quality child-care program and maintaining qualified staff is an increasing challenge in today's market. To address these issues in context with the pending relocation, the University considered partnering with a known leader in employer-sponsored child-care. Such partnerships often offer the potential for designing, constructing, and partially funding facilities, for maximizing a firm's expertise in training and for supporting ongoing teacher development. A thorough review of Penn's options indicated, however, that a self-operated center would be the best alternative for PCC in the near term. While PCC will continue to seek expert advice on designing and implementing its program, the day-to-day operations will remain with Penn at this time.
The development of the former GE building (Almanac February 9, 1999) by the University and Dranoff Properties offers a unique opportunity to house PCC in 10,000 square feet of 90,000 feet committed for lease by the University. PCC will join other University tenants of the building such as the Facilities and Mail Services departments. This location is close to the core of campus and is accessible via Chestnut Street. The adjacent parking lot provides ample parking and drop-off/pick-up space and exterior square footage to develop a playground.
Situated in 10,000 square feet of space, the Center will accommodate approximately 16 infants, 30 toddlers and 60 pre-school children. This represents a 27% increase in capacity from PCC's original capacity of 83 and a 40% increase from its current capacity in its interim space. The interior footprint of the space allows for an efficient layout for child care purposes and future expansion is a possibility. Featuring an outdoor playground of approximately 4,000 square feet and an indoor all-purpose room, the Center's program will be based on the current curriculum. Plans to expand the current snow-day care component and possibly add holiday and off-peak hour care are also under discussion.
While enrollment will not be made exclusive to Penn families, approximately 80% of the slots will be held for Penn. The remaining 20% will be made available to Penn affiliates and families from area institutions and the community. A waiting list is already being kept and preference will be given to Penn families with an eye towards keeping the center as diverse as possible.
Approved by the Trustees as a $2 million project, the Center is scheduled for occupancy in January 2001, at which time the interim spaces will be vacated. Due to the increased occupancy and operating costs, tuition rates will be increased beginning in July 2000. PCC's tuition rates are currently the lowest of its competitors in West Philadelphia and the tuition increases will bring Penn's rates more in-line with the area market and reflective of the high quality of care provided.
To help mitigate the higher rate structure for Penn families who cannot afford the tuition, a sliding fee/tuition reduction program has been developed. The program introduces three tiers of tuition:
The Penn Rate would apply to Penn faculty, staff and students.
The fee reduction program will be funded through the employee benefits pool and, accordingly, will be available to Penn staff families only. Recipients must meet eligibility requirements such as full or regular part-time University employment. Families with gross income under $40,000 would be eligible for a 40% discount. Families with gross income between $40,000-$60,000 would be eligible for a 25% discount. (Tied to the structure of the program, students, UPHS families, post-doctoral fellows and similar categories will not be eligible for the subsidized rate. Funding for student assistance will be sought, however.)
Penn has been a leader in the area of on-site quality child-care and continues to invest in its Quality of Work and Campus Life initiatives. High quality child-care is a strategic advantage for Penn as an employer and it is a significant resource in the University's recruitment and retention efforts. University-based centers also provide excellent opportunities for research and student internships most notably in Nursing, Graduate Education, Arts and Sciences and Medicine. Programs such as intergeneration and community outreach also support Penn initiatives in the West Philadelphia community. The availability of reliable child-care also enhances West Philadelphia as an area in which families might purchase homes. PCC's new location and structure will continue to support these important objectives.
--Marie D. Witt, Associate Vice President, Business Services
Almanac, Vol. 46, No. 26, March 28, 2000