Legislative child care center OK'd

First priority offered to legislators and staff, then government, public

Posted: Thursday, December 04, 2008

As a legislator, Rep. Mary Nelson, D-Bethel, couldn't find child care for her infants. She brought in her 81-year-old grandmother from Colorado to Juneau to care for her children.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

"From a firsthand basis, that's been the most difficult part of being a legislator for me," said Nelson, whose four children range from 8 months to 10 years. "If Juneau is committed to keeping Juneau the capital, this has got to be addressed."

It's coming. This month, the Legislative Council approved a deal to transform the old Scottish Rite temple across from the Capitol into legislative offices and a child care center.

The city of Juneau bought the building from the local Freemasons, who built it in 1928, and gave it to the Legislature for $1.

This week, passers-by who peek in will see piles of rubble, heavy equipment and bright lights, as contractor Silverbow Construction Inc. demolishes the inside of the old Masonic temple.

The child care center, taking up the lower level of the Capitol annex, is scheduled to open next October.

"I can't wait to get started," said Blue Shibler, a Juneau child care provider who won the contract to run the new center.

"There are people who come from all over the state to do the important work of the state, making our laws. And I'm really excited to be able to provide this service for them," she said.

Shibler worked in Juneau's Montessori program for seven years and has run her own business, Discovery Preschool, since 2005.

The Legislative Council approved the deal with Shibler two weeks ago. Contracts were being finalized this week. It wasn't a sure thing: The contract squeaked by at the Legislative Council meeting only after Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, changed his vote to a yea, according to Nelson, who co-chaired the subcommittee that handled the contract.

Shibler will have spaces for seven infants, nine toddlers and 17 preschoolers year-round. During regular or special legislative sessions, she'll have three more spaces in each age group specifically for out-of-towners. The maximum number of kids was determined by the center's square footage.

Priority will go first to legislators and their staff, then to state employees, city employees, and finally the general public. For session-only spaces, legislative parents will join a lottery if spaces run short.

Shibler will have spaces for daily drop-in care, which isn't available in downtown Juneau.

The Legislature isn't subsidizing tuition. Parents will pay rates comparable to other child care centers in town, according to Shibler.

Child care vacancy rates in Juneau are steadily declining, according to Joy Lyon, executive director of the Association for the Education of Young Children in Southeast, who tracks vacancies and helps parents find them. Some Juneau child care centers turn away families daily.

Lyon has seen a drop in vacancies since 2002. The worst shortage is spots for infants, who are the hardest to care for.

There were no spaces for infants, Lyon said twice this fall.

Shibler is already starting a waiting list for the new center.

• Contact reporter Kate Golden at 523-2276 or e-mail kate.golden@juneauempire.com.

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