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A New Mayor/ A New Era for Child Care

by Charles Lauster Architect, P.C. on October 24, 2013

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A NEW MAYOR/A NEW ERA IN CHILD CARE

 

CLAblogBy Charles Lauster                                                                                                                     October 2013

Bill de Blasio is making universal pre-kindergarten classes a major component of his campaign for mayor. As public policy, pre-K education is a great help in boosting children’s education and in assisting working parents. A universal program was passed by the City Council in 1998 but it was inadequately funded. Tens of thousand of children could not be accommodated.

One of the cost issues in dealing with children four years old and younger is the facility itself. Children younger than four are really in child care for which the city has comprehensive requirements. These include toilet rooms for small children only, an adult toilet room, a pantry or kitchen, square footage minimums for classroom space and more. The result is that a “classroom” for children is much more expensive, on a square foot basis, than a regular school classroom.

CDBChildCareWebThen there is the issue of active play. While a good portion of the day is taken up with teaching, kids need to burn off energy in play. This is the biggest problem in New York City facilities. Real play requires real space. Space to run, jump and climb on things. The classrooms are full of instructional items; vigorous play in there is asking for trouble. Yet a nice, big space could be another classroom serving yet more children. Since the financial feasibility of a center is tied to the number of kids served, classrooms almost always take precedence over indoor play space. Outdoor play space, the best solution for active exercise, is very difficult find. Moving the children to a playground or park near the center is a complex undertaking. Try getting thirty three year olds out of the building, across the street and down the block to a park; it is a big deal. To make matters worse, many of the spaces in New York that might work as a center are no where near outdoor space appropriate for young children. Some buildings have roof space that can be made into successful play grounds but again the cost is significant.

In figuring out the funding of true, universal pre-K, the new administration is going to have to confront the funding of more facilities for children two and up to four years old. Considering the crowded conditions in most schools and the inadvisability of mixing young children with regular school age children the city’s schools are probably not part of the solution.

Many of the city’s public housing projects have wonderful child care facilities with directly accessed playgrounds. Those centers are obviously already full.  Yet they do represent a good model for a new generation of centers if the funds to build them can be found. The infrastructure aspect of the pre-K program is vital if the universality goal is to be realized. Construction on that scale encourages a creative reconsideration of design for young children. There may be land use regulation changes that could promote play space. There may be changes in the Department of Health rules that make more indoor play space possible. The Department of Buildings and the Fire Department might take a new look on restrictions on siting facilities for children. If a large number of new slots (an odd word for a child) are to be created and a large amount of money spent, this may be the time for a fresh approach to child care facilities in New York City.

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