Finding room for kids on campus

Like virtually every university in Canada, the U of S is lacking in child care spaces but a steering committee now looking into the issue is considering some options for improving the situation with the goal of doubling the number of spots on campus in the next two to three years, and tripling that number in five to six years.  

By Mark Ferguson

Associate Vice-President of Student and Enrolment Services David Hannah is heading up the group which was set up after a direct request from the U of S Students' Union (USSU) to the president to find a way to improve the child care situation. Hannah said several child care working groups, task forces and committees over the past 15 years have come to the same conclusion, "that we need more child care on campus (but) now it's time to move from talking about this to action." And the first step for the steering committee was to collect data.

Vicki Squires, program manager of divisional assessment and planning in the Student and Enrolment Services Division, said an early January survey drew about 2,100 responses from students and employees who, together, could make use of 822 childcare spaces. There are currently 110 spots available – 66 in the USSU-run centre in the Williams Building and 44 in a centre located in the Education Building. The university provides space for both but each is run by an independent board.

The survey, Hannah said, provided "a snapshot of demand in the next year" while also giving those without child care needs the chance to voice an opinion on the importance of the issue to the university. Squires said 60 per cent of survey respondents rated the issue as extremely important; another 24 per cent said it is very important. The survey also showed that affordability, quality, proximity to the university and full-time care were the most important factors in selecting a child care option.

Hannah said the steering committee is now considering four possible solutions to the child care space shortage. The first is expanding the current centres to accommodate more children. An important consideration in this option is meeting new provincial regulations for child care centres that require more square footage per child than currently provided as well as stipulate access to outdoor play space and sunlight.

Option two, he said, is to look at other spaces on campus for child care services, keeping in mind the overall shortage of space at the U of S and the renovation costs that would be incurred. Another possibility is finding appropriate child care space off campus "in a school, a community hall, a church." The committee has had preliminary discussions with Saskatoon Public Schools officials but no detailed talks have taken place.

The final option is new purpose-built child care space, he said, pointing out that a child care centre is included in the concept plan for College Quarter.

"Our long-term goal (of tripling the current number of spaces) will probably require a combination of these options," he said. "If we want 100 more spaces, we have to ask, what is the fastest and most economical way to do that?"

The next step for the committee will be to outline for the Board of Governors the various options, and then continue to gather information about each with an eye to ultimately making a specific proposal. Hannah added that any proposal would likely follow the current model of "the university providing space and the centres being run by independent board that hire their own staff. The university is happy to try to do what it can to provide space but I don't think we want to get into the child care business."