Campus News

New Children's Center Opens Its Doors

Story posted January 16, 2003

The new Bowdoin Children's Center building on South Street opened its doors for business at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, January 14.

"Wow!" and "awesome!" (with ten-foot-tall letters, according to staff) were the most frequently spoken words during the opening hours.

"It was a magical thing, watching the families when they came in," reports Rhode Ann Jones, director of the Children's Center.

Gone are the days when the Children's Center operated from a gloomy, retrofitted house and a couple of mobile units down the road. Now the program will be run in its new state-of-the-art 5,000-square-foot modern building, notable for being big, bright, colorful, and very kid-friendly.

Since it opened in 1988, the Bowdoin College Children's Center (BCCC) has run a strong program, meeting the year-round need for high-quality early childhood care for children of faculty, staff, and some local residents. Despite less-than-ideal surroundings, the Children's Center has been able to offer families a stimulating environment for infant, toddler and preschool children. Special attention to adult-child ratios, small group sizes, thoughtfully designed classrooms, and caregivers with specialized training have always characterized the programs offered by the Children's Center.

"The program is so wonderful. Now the setting is equal to the curriculum!" says Jones as she beams with pride at the new facility.

To the casual observer who drives or walks by, the red building with the funny roof angles at 6-8 South Street might appear somewhat unremarkable. But walk through the front doors, amble down the windowed front hallway, and step into one of the activity rooms.

"People are blown away by what they can't see from the street," says Jones.

The building has four bright, colorful, and well-equipped activity rooms, including one with a play loft; two full-size kitchens; two napping rooms with closed-circuit monitors; indoor and outdoor storage spaces; and playground decks. Other amenities include a full fire alarm and sprinkler system, an ultraviolet air purification system, handicapped access, and its own parking lot and enlarged drop-off zone.

The transition into the new building was seamless for the children, says Jones. "The people, the toys, the cribs are all the same. The kids are very, very happy!"

"The first thing they noticed was all the windows." Small wonder. The interior design features continuous windows with large areas of glass, both maximizing day lighting and allowing the center's tiny charges to watch lots of outdoor activity.

"This is a building built for kids," says Karen Bergeron, educational coordinator for the Children's Center. "You walk in, and it says kids."

Jones agrees. "It's exciting to have a building that was built for exactly what it will be used for. It's all about the kids."

Walls are painted a sunny yellow or soft cream. Woodwork is light, counters gleam. The carpeting design features kiddy drawings of houses and boats. And color is everywhere, from the toy boxes and furniture to a rainbow of scarves hanging from the ceiling. Even the kids' toothbrushes, lined up neatly over miniature sink, add color.

The $1.25 million facility was designed by Dick Reed Architects in Portland along with Reed staff interior designer Nadine Cole. "They were wonderful," compliments Jones, "always very attuned to what we wanted. It was a very inclusive process." The contractor was Payton Construction of Saco.

Funding was provided by an anonymous quarter-million dollar gift from the parents of a Bowdoin alumnus, and a $1 million College bond.

One thing the staff of 17 happily finds they need to get used to now in the new building: for the first time, they are all under one roof. While they've all known each other all along, "Now we have the proximity to share," says Jones. "Not just furniture, but laughter, strategy, ideas."

The new facility has allowed the Children's Center to expand its offerings from three programs to four: infant, younger toddler, older toddler, and pre-school, serving a maximum of 41 children per day.

With an increasingly younger faculty, Jones points to the fact that the Children's Center serves an important role in both recruiting and retaining top faculty to Bowdoin. Faculty members agree.

"Philosophically, I believe that progressive employers need to recognize that this is a crucial concern for employees," says a current faculty member. "As the families in the workforce continue to change, the marketplace has generally failed to keep up. [I think] employers who neglect childcare will find themselves losing quality employees."

Upon being hired, another current faculty member called the existence of an exceptional Children's Center on campus a "huge relief.... It really told me that this community had something very special about it, that the College valued faculty as parents as well a professors, that I would be able to have a family and be a professional [here]."

Another speaks for many faculty and staff who use the Children's Center: "Having my daughter on campus with me has been an immeasurable benefit of working at this college."

The old permanent building at 4 South Street will be retained for the Children's Center's staff use. After some much needed painting and carpet laying, the building will host parent conferences and workshops, and be used for staff breaks, meals, computer work, storage, and a resource library.

Future plans for the new building include the installation of two murals along the walls in the hallway facing South Street. First, kids from the Children's Center will create Crayon drawings of a parade. Then, Prof. Mark Wethli and his partners Kyle Durrie '01 and Cassie Jones '01 will render the pictures in real Crayola colors, with one parade marching off to the right, the other marching off to the left.

No boring, sterile bulletin boards for those walls. "We wanted it to be childlike and beautiful!" says Jones.

Because of the onslaught of winter and heavy snow, the outdoor playgrounds will be completed in the spring.

The official dedication of the building is tentatively scheduled for May 6.

The non-profit Bowdoin College Children's Center is licensed by the Maine Department of Human Services, and is nationally accredited, validated every three years by the National Academy of Early Childhood Programs (NAEYC). The Center's current accreditation is valid until April of 2004.

Visit the BCCC Web site for more information at http://bowdoin.edu/childrenscenter/about.shtml.

Click here to read about Bowdoin's "green demolition," which made way for the new Children's Center last April.

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