Wednesday, December 11, 2013
GREENFIELD — When Greenfield Community College employee Rosemarie Freeland attended the college as a student in the early 1990s, she took along her young son Isaac. While she learned in college classes, he learned in a preschool classroom as a part of the college’s on-campus early education and child care program.
It meant less worry and schedule coordination for Freeland, who could peek in between classes to see how her son was doing. And she said it strengthened their bond to be learning together, in the same place at the same time.
Construction on the GCC campus forced the college to close its child care center in 1999 and it was never reopened. GCC is the only community college in the state without one.
But this fall, GCC officials began planning with anti-poverty organization Community Action to build a new early education and child care facility on campus. For years, it has been a priority of GCC officials, including President Robert Pura, who have heard from students that finding a place to look after their children has sometimes been an obstacle to their education.
The proposed 15,000-square-foot center would be built on Parking Lot C, which is southwest of the main campus and least used by students and faculty.
Community Action would run the facility — offering the federally subsidized Head Start education and child care program for low-income families — and would give priority placement to children of GCC students, faculty and staff. The organization would have to pay utility costs but no additional rent for the space, said Pura.
The center for at least 60 children is still in the early planning phases and likely would not be opened until 2015 or 2016. It would include a playground and would be surrounded by a fence.
The cost is still being calculated but Pura estimates it will be between $1.5 million and $2.5 million.
“We’re really excited about this potential partnership,” said Clare Higgins, executive director of Community Action and a GCC trustee. “I think it’s really good for the college, it’s really good for us ... (and) it’s good for the community.”
Some parents have been able to bring their children to Head Start and other child care programs throughout the community. But it has been difficult for others, including some who depend on public transportation to get to GCC, said Freeland, the college’s women’s resource center coordinator.
One student missed a significant portion of a semester after an informal child care arrangement she had made with a friend or relative fell through, said Freeland.
Kia Burton McLaughlin, president of the GCC Student Senate, said she took all of her classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays one semester and made arrangements for her 2-month-old daughter to be cared for on those days. Her options for local infant care facilities were limited, she said.
In addition to helping students who are parents, the center would also help those training to work with children, said Pura. An on-campus facility would provide a lab space for future teachers and child care providers, he said.
And GCC staff believe that there will be a benefit for the young children, who will be starting their educational journeys on a college campus.
“The children of the students see themselves as part of this community and that is incredibly powerful,” said Freeland. It will be “like they’re little, mini GCC students.”
The GCC Foundation is aiming to raise money for the center during the Valley Gives Day e-philanthropy event on Thursday. Pura said he is also talking to potential sponsors of the site.
Otherwise, Community Action would pay off a loan over time or the college could appeal for state aid, he said.