City aims to sell W. Juneau center

After community day-care center shuts down, city works with state agency to sell land, building

Posted: Wednesday, January 22, 2003

The city wants to sell the Children's Community Center building in West Juneau after the day- care program inside shut down last year.

The Children's Community Center day-care program closed in November after nearly 30 years in operation. The parent organization that ran the center - Workers with Children - had been struggling with debt and staffing issues, board member Shawn Damerval said.

"We did our best to keep it open, but it just couldn't happen," she said. "We had some problems that went back several years and we never quite dug out of the hole."

The center's board is in the process of dissolving the nonprofit corporation and calculating how much money it owes, Damerval said. About 15 children attended the program last fall. The center was licensed to care for 42 children, age 18 months to 12 years, she said.

At least one group already has asked the city about the building. The Southeast Alaska Friends of Montessori, which would like to see a middle school and high school Montessori program in Juneau, is looking at using the center temporarily, said member Lupita Alvarez.

The 3,000-square-foot building is owned by the city and was built in 1972, said City Lands Manager Steve Gilbertson. The narrow structure has classroom space, a kitchen and restrooms for children and staff. It is near the Cedar Park housing development at the corner of Cordova Street and Foster Avenue.

"It's really a bridge built over a gully," Gilbertson said. "The building doesn't have a foundation. It's unique in that sense."

The Alaska Housing Finance Corp. owns the land, and its lease requires the building be used for pre-school education, children's day care or similar community purposes, Gilbertson said.

The city is working with the AHFC to see if it can sell the land and the building at fair market value. If not, the city could sell or lease the center to a nonprofit group at less than fair market value, Gilbertson said.

"If it was sold at fair market value to any private party, there would be no restrictions, (other than) whatever the zoning would allow," he said. "If it was sold to a nonprofit corporation at nominal cost, there would be a restriction that it would have to be used for some community purpose."

Up until 2000, the city had been paying $20,000 to $25,000 annually in maintenance and operation costs for the center, Gilbertson said.

"Our goal is to make sure the city doesn't have to continue subsidizing a building there," he said.

Although her group had problems, Damerval said there's no reason someone with a fresh start couldn't run a viable day-care program at the center.

"It's a wonderful place for a day care center, a wonderful building," she said.

Joy Lyon, executive director of the National Association for the Education of Young Children-Southeast Alaska, also sees a need for more child care in town. Juneau's seven child-care centers, icensed to serve 366 children, had 10 openings at the start of January, she said.

In addition, Juneau has another 27 family child-care programs with room for 220 children in home-based settings. Those programs had 19 openings earlier this month, according to NAEYC.

"Especially for infants and toddlers, there's really a lack of care," Lyon said. "We are really hoping that another organization or center will open up and utilize that space - someone with a good business background as well as early-childhood education (experience)."

At one time, the Children's Community Center was the premier child care center in Juneau, she said.

"It's a struggle for all centers to find staff that are well qualified and offer health care and wages. It's tied to what the parent can afford to pay," Lyon said. "There are subsidies to parents, but not many subsidies to programs that offer child care."

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