The City of College Park and the University of Maryland are prepping to turn the dilapidated former school site on Calvert Road into a child care facility after the city council approved the proposal between the two entities on Tuesday.
The next step is for three project leaders — vice president for administration and finance Carlo Colella, assistant vice president for administration and finance Anne Martens and university real estate assistant vice president Ed Maginnis — to meet with potential construction partners to turn the site into a child care center by day and a space for the community at night and on weekends, said Colella, this university’s vice president for administration and finance.
The child care center will offer 120 spots for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old, and this university last year sought out Bright Horizons, a child care provider, to run the facility. The center is slated to open in fall 2018, Colella said.
“I’m looking forward to transforming this vacant and disrepaired space that hasn’t been maintained, to be an amenity,” said Mayor Patrick Wojahn. The site has been nearly vacant for a decade since the Friends Community School ended its lease there with the city in 2007.
As discussed in prior council meetings, the allocation of seats within the facility will be based on financial contributions. The city’s projected contribution of $788,500 — based on estimated costs of the school site and its parking lot — reserves about 17 of the 120 seats available for city residents not employed by this university. The university is expected to cover $4.5 million of the total $5.5 million cost and allocate the remaining seats for university employees.
Though “nothing is set in stone right now,” the council may choose to buy additional seats for College Park residents based on an additional investment, or offer a subsidy for low-income residents ahead of the city’s 2019 fiscal year budget, Wojahn said. The city has the chance to obtain up to 30 seats based on further financial contribution, District 3 Councilwoman Stephanie Stullich said.
“Given that there’s a lot of interest in having more seats available for city residents, I think that makes a lot of sense,” Stullich said. She added the city could implement the subsidy in the same way it offers scholarships for the city’s students to attend academic summer camps, though she clarified there’s a lot to explore on the matter.
In addition to the estimated 17 seats city residents would receive at the center, the space will allow residents to hold meetings or community events when the center is closed, Stullich said. Space for meetings has been in short supply since the Old Parish House closed for renovations, she added.
“We have a partner who’s contributing $4.5 million, possibly more, and we’re contributing a building that has been a blight on the community for the past 10 years,” Stullich said.
While the building has been mostly unused, the Public Services department is currently housed in the building’s east wing and will have to move, Wojahn said. This university is providing an office space for the department on Route 1.
The proposal became a reality March 28 when Wojahn broke a 4-4 tie to approve the proposal. Thirty-one of the 37 people who spoke expressed their support of the project, which works to fill a need for childcare in the city and at this university. There are a limited number of child care facilities in College Park, which include the Center for Young Children at this university and the College Park Nursery School on College Avenue.
“We’ve compared ourselves to peer institutions … and we are really just lacking in the amount of child care service that we have available,” Colella said.
Some at the meeting had expressed concerns with the endeavor, with one resident telling councilmembers the project’s cost was too high for 17 seats. District 1 Councilman Fazlul Kabir, who voted against the proposal, had also proposed an amendment to put development on hold for an undetermined amount time to research more possible options.
Despite the discourse at last week’s meeting, Colella said he hopes the entire city comes to embrace the child care facility.
“I certainly hope that the action of the city council to vote and support puts this issue to rest,” Colella said. “[The child care facility] takes a somewhat dilapidated, unused facility and brings it to new life.”