New U of S childcare centre lessens barriers to education

Today, members of the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) community celebrated the completion of the university’s first stand-alone childcare building and honoured those involved in the project.

Education minister Don Morgan and U of S President Peter Stoicheff sign the wall at the launch of the new childcare centre.
Education minister Don Morgan and U of S President Peter Stoicheff sign the wall at the launch of the new childcare centre.

The one-storey building is located across the street from the university at 109 Cumberland Avenue South and has space for 90 children, aged six months to six years. 

“One of our key goals is to see students succeed and reach their educational goals,” said Patti McDougall, chair of the childcare expansion committee and vice-provost, teaching and learning at the U of S. “In order to help students get there, the university plays a role in removing some of the barriers students face, and we know that access to childcare can be a real challenge for student-parents.”

There are now 200 childcare spaces at three childcare centres on campus. The majority of the spots are held for children of university students and the remainder are available to the children of university faculty and staff.

With only minor expenses still to come in, the cost of the project is $4.3 million—with the majority of funding coming from the U of S and Saskatchewan Ministry of Education.

“Our $1.4-million investment in this centre is an investment in the future of Saskatchewan people,” said Deputy Premier and Education Minister Don Morgan. “Access to childcare allows parents to pursue education and job opportunities while their children are engaged in quality early learning programs. Since 2007, our government has increased childcare spaces by 53 per cent, adding 4,935 new spaces.”

Colleen Gerling is the executive director of the two U of S Students’ Union (USSU) childcare centres. She says the idea for the stand-alone centre came from the work of previous USSU executives who were instrumental in highlighting need and keeping this project on the university’s radar.

Gerling appreciates the layout of the new building and said parents appreciate the “newness” of the facility.

“I compare the new building’s structure to a tree,” said Gerling. “A large foyer and open-concept kitchen greets visitors as they walk through the entrance of the building, and play rooms branch out from the main gathering space.”

Gerling said because of the open concept kitchen in the centre of the building, the smell of baked goods fills every corner of the centre and, at times, certified chef Robyn Dutertre is the first person to greet parents and answer questions.

A raised loft area overlooks the kitchen and allows children to watch Dutertre cook, learn about ingredients and even lend a helping hand.

According to McDougall, the design of the building was based on the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, which identifies the “environment as the third teacher” as one of its five fundamental principles.

To ensure proximity to the outdoor play space, McDougall said each of the rooms in the building have direct access to the outdoors, and cozy window nooks have been intentionally designed at child height.

Gerling said children enjoy using finger paints to temporarily decorate the glass doors leading into each playroom. They also enjoy playing outside in the large yard. The children love climbing the wooden play structures so much that the centre is looking into getting more. 

“Although after the most recent snow fall, I have to say that the children’s favourite part of our new centre are the puddles,” Gerling said with a chuckle.

The USSU childcare centres are licensed facilities run by the USSU childcare centre board, made up of parents, Gerling, USSU representatives and a U of S staff representative. 

Students, staff and faculty interested in learning more about the USSU Childcare Centres, please email executivedirector@ussuchildcarecentre.ca.

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