June 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 47°F


Circles Community Center may become temporary child care facility

For years, parents in the Ithaca College community have called for on-campus child care and those calls may, at least temporarily, be answered. Starting July 2023, the College Circle Apartments Community Building may be an annex for the Coddington Road Community Center’s preschool and afterschool programs.

The college announced this potential collaboration March 7 on IC Current. From about 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays, around 42 students ages 3–12 would be in the community center’s meeting rooms.

David Prunty, revenue generation and special projects coordinator at the college, said CRCC will undergo a remodel, providing an opportunity for the college to collaborate with the child care facility. Starting July 2023, when the remodel will begin, the college will step in to provide a space for community youth, including the children of college faculty and staff who already have memberships at CRCC.

According to the announcement, the college will serve as an annex for about two years, although the timeline is not yet exact. Prunty said many aspects of the CRCC annex are not set yet because the collaboration is in its early stages and while the CRCC annex has been approved by the Town of Ithaca Planning Board, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services has not yet set a date for review. Prunty said CRCC and the college are still working on the contract for the rental cost of the community center, but said the amount will be very minimal.

Heather Mount, executive director of CRCC, said CRCC is in the process of expanding its buildings to be able to be more of a community center and not just child care, like it is now. Mount said she mentioned in conversations with Tim Downs, vice president for finance and administration and chief financial officer, that there was a temporary building on the center’s property that would be in the way of construction. 

“At that point, our conversation shifted a little bit to the fact that there might be some space on campus available,” Mount said. “[He asked] would we be interested in developing that kind of collaboration, which of course was fantastic. So that’s sort of where we evolved to.”

David Harker, director of the Center for Civic Engagement, said his relationship to CRCC is both professional and personal. On a professional level, the center has partnered with CRCC in the past to provide opportunities for students to work with the classes at CRCC.

On a personal level, Harker has two young children, ages 1.5 and 4.5, who attend CRCC’s infant program and preschool programs.

Harker said his daughter will age out of the preschool program by the time the annex is instated, but if he decides to send her to the afterschool program through CRCC, she would be on campus. He said his son will remain at CRCC’s main location on Coddington Road, which offers infant child care, summer camp and family programming. Mount said just the preschool and afterschool programs will be in the annex.



Bill Kerry, executive director of the Office of Public Safety & Emergency Management, said one consideration for the Office of Public Safety is access control while there are CRCC children in the building. Kerry said the college needs to figure out who will have key access to the building.

Kerry said the OPS also needs to consider parking spaces for CRCC staff, who will be leading the programs, and traffic flow. He said the TCAT buses need to still be able to get through the Circles Community Center area, and the college needs to make sure high-traffic times like pickup and dropoff do not interfere with students’ vehicles.

“We’re trying to do our due diligence from a parking and traffic perspective so that people are safe, but also are able to fairly easily find parking,” Kerry said. “Luckily, a lot of [traffic] is dropoff and pickup and there’s not a huge amount of staff so it’s not like we’re having to overhaul the parking lot. [We] may utilize an area of a nearby parking lot that doesn’t usually have a lot of cars in it.”

Kerry said there are routine safety concerns for child care facilities that are not applicable in a college setting, so facilities will need to make adjustments. AED machines need to include pads designed for young children and coverings need to be added to fire alarms and extinguishers to make sure they are not accidentally triggered.

Prunty said the times when the CRCC students will be in the community center are not high-traffic times for the college’s students, so there should be limited interference. He said the bathrooms are the main places where college students and daycare students would overlap. Otherwise, daycare students will not occupy the same places as college students, like the mailroom and the laundry room.

Mount said the college will provide food for the daycare students, so the staff will not need access to a kitchen. Kerry said more specific logistics, like signage and parking locations, will get sorted out in the future, as July approaches.


Permanent on-campus child care

President La Jerne Cornish said in the announcement that this temporary child care facility could be a trial for more permanent on-campus child care. Child care is also part of the Ithaca Forever Strategic Plan that was first drafted in September 2018. The five-year strategic plan document lists one of the goals of being an employer of choice.

“Develop, in collaboration with community partners, a family care center (daycare/ after-school/elder care) to support our employees and serve as a year-round experiential learning opportunity for students,” the strategic plan states.

Jenny Pickett, assistant director in the Office of Residential Life and Student Conduct and Community Standards, said she was on the working group with Mount. Pickett said the working group formed in 2019 after the Ithaca Forever Strategic Plan goals were shared.

“I wasn’t part of [the working group] because I was part of ResLife, I was part of it because I was a mom of two kids and someone that had asked for a daycare center on campus for a while,” Pickett said.

Pickett said that as far as she is aware, the working group is not actively meeting. She said that if the college were to pursue more permanent child care in the Circles Community Center, ResLife would become involved as an office. 

Pickett said that when the working group first formed, members reached out to Mount about potential collaborations for child care. She said conversations stalled when the pandemic hit, but conversations restarted when Mount reached out about using the community center as an annex in summer 2022.

Mount said she was a member of the working group as a content area expert and provided information about CRCC, along with potential collaboration opportunities.

“If having an onsite child care was something [the college was] interested in, we could provide some initial guidance on how to explore that, look into licensing and things like that,” Mount said.

Pickett said that as a mother, she considers daycare for infants and preschoolers to be most important because those are the ages when schools cannot provide services like afterschool programs. She said that having child care on campus would have saved her time.

“I was driving an extra 20–30 minutes every day just because of where my child care was in relationship to the college,” Pickett said. “I live five minutes from campus, so it would have been really convenient.”

Johan Dulfer, head coach for the volleyball team, has two children, ages 5 and 8. Dulfer said his wife’s job working with cancer patients has less flexibility than his, so during the Ithaca School City School District’s breaks — which do not line up with the college’s breaks — or snow days, he had to bring his children with him to work. 

“If I also have to run a practice or there’s recruiting responsibilities, then my kids will come with me,” Dulfer said. “I appreciate the fact that there’s a lot of us in this boat. I know there’s loads of young families in athletics that are dealing with it.”

Dulfer said child care in general is difficult to find in Ithaca, but child care for children younger than 2 years old is especially hard to come by. When his son was 2 years old, Dulfer had to negotiate his son into a daycare with a minimum age of three.

“We really needed reliable care and we struggled finding it,” Dulfer said. “From that perspective, having it be offered through your employer, which I know some colleges do, sounds pretty nice.”

According to a toolkit published by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, over 1,500 colleges, universities and technical schools offer on-campus child care. According to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, the benefits of on-campus child care for college employees and students include increased retention for employees and students with children, increased productivity and morale, better work-life balance and the opportunity for student involvement and hands-on learning. 

CUPA-HR also states there are direct benefits for the college. Institutions can get federal tax credits if they have child care facilities on campus, and the facilities can help recruit more employees and students who need convenient child care.

Stephanie Fritz, director of the Child Care Center at SUNY Cortland, said child care facilities at Cortland started in 1985 in the basement of a dorm, and have since expanded to be their own facility with a 300-person waitlist. Fritz said members of the college community — including faculty, staff and students — get priority on the waitlist over general community members. 

“It kind of tells you how much need there is for child care,” Fritz said. 

Harker said he understands the struggles of parents trying to find child care for their infants and toddlers. He said waitlists are long and locations can be inconvenient relative to where the parents live and work.

“It’s a huge need in general in our community,” Harker said. “It takes a real struggle to find that care sometimes. … [It would be] great having it on campus and then directly accessible, having it in a space that is, at the very least, not far from your work.”



According to CUPA-HR, on-campus child care can be expensive, and those costs can fall on the college if there is not adequate funding. Fritz said some costs include insurance, licenses, paying personnel and making sure staff have good benefits.

“We try to keep the cost down but we also have to make sure that we can maintain the quality that we do have,” Fritz said.

Fritz said Cortland’s child care facilities get 90% of their funding from tuition that parents pay for their children to attend. The other 10% comes from grants, like New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s initiative, to pay for the training of child care professionals across SUNY campuses.

Prunty said the college has not yet explored funding for permanent on-campus child care. He said one of the main sources of funding would likely be the costs of tuition from parents of children at the facility.

“I would imagine that all funding possibilities would be on the table when and if the college makes a decision that it wants to offer ongoing child care on campus,” Prunty said.


Academic Partnerships

Fritz said the Child Care Center at Cortland sees students come in for observation hours during the semester, especially students in the Childhood/Early Childhood Education Department. Fritz said students with Federal Work Study on their financial aid plans directly work in the center.

Harker said part of his role at the college is to facilitate the partnerships between the child care facility at the college and students. 

“There’s some cool opportunities for hands-on learning for both our students and their students. Some opportunities for kind of cool intergenerational interactions that we can do,” Harker said.

Harker said one opportunity for the college’s students would be to host field trips for the CRCC children. Students could tour offices, labs and facilities to learn about how all the different spaces on campus function.

Pickett said the working group had started conversations about academic partnerships if on-campus child care became a permanent option.

“On Intercom, we frequently see requests [from] students in the PT or OT programs to work with kids of certain age groups,” Pickett said. “[The working group] thought that there might be some potential for some partnerships … [with] student programs where they need to work with kids … if we had a daycare on campus.”

Harker said an opportunity would be academic partnerships, like through health sciences, speech pathology, occupational therapy and physical therapy, that often work with young children.

“[We] can make some direct connections with that work on the clinical level,” Harker said. “I would imagine there’s lots of opportunities that we can figure out long term. Then there’s education, sociology, psych classes, anything around youth development.”

Mount said conversations about permanent on-campus child care have been ongoing for a long time and the college now has a chance to try out on-campus child care before committing to a long-term project.

“The opportunity to collaborate with Ithaca College and have our programs temporarily move into their spaces is a new and exciting opportunity,” Mount said. “It’s good to take this chance. … Being able to see what our classrooms look like on campus and how we interact with the different programs and faculty and things like that, I think will give a lot of real-time information on how that type of programming could progress in the future.”