By Jamie Swinnerton
A dream years in the making will be coming to fruition in mere months as the Tompkins Cortland Community College (TC3) broke ground in May on what will become their new bigger and better childcare facility. The new center, which is being built within a short walking distance from the main TC3 building, will be over 8,000 square feet, including six classrooms with two infant rooms, three playgrounds, and be, in part, staffed by students studying to be teachers and childcare providers.
The new center will be available to students, staff, and faculty at TC3 but will also be available to members of the community at large. Infant care in both Tompkins and Cortland counties is badly needed and the new child care center could end up being the thing that helps parents of young children make the decision to go back to school or continue their education after high school.
Back in 2015, the TC3 foundation board was looking for a project to help fund that would help meet the needs of the students to help them succeed. Outgoing director of the TC3 childcare center, Johanna Hartnett, put together the initial proposal for the new center that is expected to open in January of next year.
“We wanted it to be serving different people,” Hartnett said. “So, it serves a lot of non-traditional students as well as helping out the staff and faculty, and then the community as well. Also, we wanted a place for the Early Childhood interns, and other interns from Human Services and other programs, would be able to do placements. The center right now is only two classrooms and there’s a big demand for early education and childcare slots for children. There’s virtually no openings for children under three in Tompkins County.”
Out of the three projects put forward, the childcare center was chosen. From there, fundraising began.
“Both of our counties and our community really stepped up to the plate to support this and were really integral in the whole fundraising aspect of it,” said Julie Gerg, Executive Director of the TC3 Foundation.
The total cost of the project is around $6 million, including $4 million in construction costs, and a $1.5 million endowment to be used to help a select number of parents afford to send their kids to the center with scholarships.
“We want them to h
ave the opportunity not only to get their education but have a safe place for their child while they’re doing that,” Hartnett said.
The endowment will be permanent and generate income each year for the center to use for operating expenses. The number of families that will be given grants is likely to change each year because they will be handed out based on need.
The current childcare facility was getting calls every day, Hartnett said, from people looking for childcare, and many had to be turned away.
“You’re turning away prospective students as well,” she said. “So, it’s a win for both. It’s a win for the college with enrollment and it’s a win for the parents who need to find a safe place for their child.”
Like the current facility, the new facility will be open all year, not just during the school year. With the new center comes around 12 new jobs at the center, possibly including recent graduates of the TC3 Early Childhood program. One of the infant rooms will be open in the spring and the other will be open in the fall, but Hartnett said enough demand was there that both could have been opened in the spring.
“There’s no doubt in my mind we should have opened them all because the demand is there, right off the bat,” she said. “We were trying to wait so students could get in in the fall and it wouldn’t be all community in January.”
Along with fundraising locally, vital funds were secured through state senator Jim Seward and state Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton. But, the center will be named for the largest private donor, Arthur Kuckes, who donated $2 million to the project and has been a friend to the college for years.
Looking to the future and other opportunities that the childcare facility could bring, TC3 President Orinthia Montague said that perhaps with the new center the college could explore the idea of family housing for students.
“I just see it as something that we need to do,” Montague said. “Whether you’re a first-time college student and you don’t want to put off going to college because of daycare and other issues, or you’re a returner and you still need childcare, we want to offer that here. So, we’re looking at ways that we can support our students.”
Montague said she thinks people don’t realize the impact that having available childcare can have on prospective students.
“Let’s say my class begins at 8 o’clock, so I have to get up, get my child ready, drop them off somewhere, get here by 8, get back to them before the daycare closes, and most daycares close at 5 or 6 o’clock, so doing that with my own transportation, or on public transportation, it just has obstacles,” she said.
Right now, Montague said, is the time to take a broad look at everything TC3 does for its students, taking into account the expansion of non-traditional students seeking an education, and the changing landscape of childcare needs and options.
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