The child-care plan

The announcement Oct. 14 that a stand-alone child-care centre on the U of S campus would soon go to tender is just part of a multi-pronged approach to addressing a child-care waiting list that currently contains about 700 names.

Patti McDougall, vice-provost of teaching and learning, said while the 90-spot centre, to be built south of the Williams Building and west of Souris Hall in College Quarter, is significant, it is just one part of a long-term strategy. Others include eventually expanding the current U of S Students' Union (USSU) child-care centre in the Williams Building by 23 spots to create a total of 89, and looking off campus to provide additional spaces.

"A survey we did in the fall of 2013 showed that there are people who want child care closer to their home," said McDougall. "We'd like to look at another part of the city and a partnership with a service provider," adding the university would not take on operation of a child-care facility either on or off campus.

The U of S Board of Governors gave approval for the preliminary exploration and design of the College Quarter building in March last year and also asked for a longer-term strategy to be developed by the spring of 2014, she explained. Along with this month's approval for the building project to proceed, the board okayed exploring the other options like expanding current facilities.

McDougall said data indicate about eight per cent of the U of S student population are parents, and about half have children requiring child care, "but I think that number is a conservative estimate." Once the building is operational, McDougall said the "desired allocation" of spots would be 25 per cent for employees, 26 per cent for graduate students, 33 per cent for undergraduates and 16 per cent for Aboriginal students. These percentages will be spread across all three campus childcare centres, she added.

"I do believe that for some students, getting one of these spots makes the difference between coming to university or not coming, between staying or not staying."

When the original building plans were proposed, both the USSU and the Graduate Students' Association agreed to a student levy to fund the project "but we recently decided we don't want to levy a fee on 100 per cent of students when we know only eight per cent are parenting. I agree very strongly with that decision."

No cost estimate for the College Quarter building is being released to maintain the integrity of the tender process, said McDougall, but funding is in place, including about $1.4 million received in 2012 from the Ministry of Education, which oversees child care in the province. The contract for that money requires the university to take steps to spend it by 2015 "so advancing to tender on this project in very short order will keep us completely in compliance."

The construction start and completion dates will be determined once the tender is awarded. She added the addition of spots will move the University of Saskatchewan to about the middle of the pack among universities based on spaces as a percentage of campus population.

"This is the right move, a positive move for us."

McDougall also pointed out she came into the project when it was well advanced, in April of this year when she assumed responsibility for the Student and Enrolment Services Division. "I picked up the ball on the five yard line and ran it into the end zone but many people, including Dave Hannah (former associate vice-president of student services), worked very hard on this. The fact we can all come together and make this happen is very positive for the entire university.

The site of the new child-care facility in the College Quarter.
The site of the new child-care facility in the College Quarter.

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