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Archive for Monday, September 29, 1997

S HILLTOP CELEBRATES 25 YEARS, PLANS FOR NEW BUILDING

September 29, 1997

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The directorof Kansas University's child-care facility is rejoicing about the formative plans for a new center across campus.

In the dreams of Pat Pisani, director of Kansas University's Hilltop Child Development Center, images of what a day care ought to be are vivid:

Children riding tricycles along a flat playground interspersed with soft grass, instead of a slope marked by railroad ties.

Bathrooms attached to every classroom; that strange smell, once pervasive through the air ducts, gone.

Better accommodations for children with disabilities.

More children ushered through the doors in the morning.

Parking.

Abandonment of the nightmarish, cramped, one way in and out parking lot behind Kansas University's Smith Hall.

The reality of those dreams is getting closer day by day as plans for a new child-care facility at KU take shape.

"If all goes perfectly, we should be in the building in two years," Pisani said, noting the center celebrates its 25th year in October. "We're kind of combining 25 years of history and our first steps toward our upcoming history."

To celebrate the past, the center is holding a family picnic and big open house and creating a gallery of 25 years of children's artwork for display in the Kansas Union.

On the drawing board: artwork for the future.

"We've gone touring different facilities ... it's been really exciting," Pisani said. "Especially since a few months ago we were told we wouldn't have a building."

A $3.3 million first phase of the new child-care facility is currently on the short list of new projects for the university.

Student support

The plan cements a commitment made several years ago, when a child-care task force recommended to KU officials the need for a more extensive facility was evident.

Earlier this month, the Kansas Board of Regents gave initial approval to KU's plan to increase a separate student fee from the current $2 per semester to $4 by 1998-99. The initial fee was approved four years ago by KU Student Senate.

"Strong student support convinced the university to go forward with the project," Pisani said.

The additional funds will help pay the construction costs for "phase one," which will bring the enrollment potential to more than 210 children.

"Ideally we'd build for 300, but we don't have the money," said Lindy Eakin, KU associate provost and Hilltop board member. "So we came up with a way to finance phase one."

Eakin said the aim was for the Kansas City-based Rafael architectural firm to have drawings done in the spring. Construction bids would follow. Bonds for the first phase also will be issued next year.

"We try to have the bonds out about the same time the construction bids go out," Eakin said. "Once we have good bids, we have to be able to move forward."

Outgrowing its space

KU Hilltop Child Development Center is licensed for 146 full-time children.

Currently, 160 children, many needing only part-time care, are enrolled. They are cared for by 20 full-time staff, with assistance from more than 30 KU students.

Many families remain on a waiting list.

Inside the aging building, what formerly were a music room and an indoor play room have been morphed into classrooms. The center's financial adviser works in an office that used to be a closet, underneath a staircase.

"We've just basically filled up every square inch of usable space," Pisani said. "We certainly have appreciated having the facility, but it's just aging, and it's not big enough."

Although the children of students have priority, the center now accepts children from throughout Lawrence. One of the conditions of the new facility is that all the young ones be students of KU faculty, staff or students.

And the biggest need, citywide as well as at KU, is for 1- and 2-year-olds.

"A lot more families with younger children will be able to get in," Pisani said. "Student families will not have to wait two or more years to get in."

However, the new facility will not offer infant care.

"It's not economically possible to do infants with the space we'll have with phase one," Pisani said.

Otherwise, the new building will open doors that previously were closed.

"People call, and they're frantic, they're in tears, and I have to tell them, 'Maybe in three years,'" Pisani said. "With the new building, so many more university families will be able to have convenient, high-quality care."

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