CVCC to close child care center

Catawba Valley Community College will close its Lab School child development center next year, school officials announced Friday.

The closing will result in a loss of seven full-time and 11 part-time jobs.

The college launched the Lab School more than 20 years ago as a combination child care center and learning lab. In the center, CVCC students in early childhood education curriculum programs work alongside permanent staff to earn clinical experience required for their degrees.

The program, which currently serves 56 children, was designed to be self-sufficient through parent fees. As state regulations grew, so did the cost for quality care — putting a strain on college funds already stressed by budget cuts in many areas.

Instead of “significantly” increasing parent fees, CVCC decided to phase out the Lab School.

“This is one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever made,” said college president Dr.

Garrett D. Hinshaw. “Our management team has been reviewing the center’s financial status and different business models for months. It was established as a fee-based service. There’s just no viable way to operate at our high standard of care without a huge deficit. We can’t absorb this level of loss.”

The Lab School will close in two phases. Classrooms for infants, toddlers, 2-year-olds and 3-year olds will close on Feb. 29, 2012. The 4-year-old classroom will remain open until May 31, 2012.

After May, the Lab School's full-time and part-time employees will be eliminated
The early childhood program — which enrolls 151 students currently — will remain operational. Curriculum students will continue to get their clinical experience at public and private day cares, Hinshaw said.

“It has done such a wonderful job for the children and families in our community for so long,” Hinshaw said. “It was one of those things — we couldn’t take away from our core mission to continue the operation of the program. It’s not within our core mission to do that.”

Brice Melton, acting director of the Lab School, pointed out that state regulations have changed dramatically since the doors first opened.

“That has all been for the good of children,” said Melton. “But those changes have added expenses to operating a quality program.”

The cost of providing benefits for Lab School full-time employees was also big factor in the closure decision, college officials said.

Benefit costs have risen 62 percent in the past six years. Lab School enrollment has been at less than capacity due to the economic downturn. Changes in benefits from a number of public service programs have also impacted enrollment, according to CVCC Chief Financial Officer Wes Bunch.

“The whole situation is devastating,” Melton said. “The Lab School is a model for best practices in early care and education and has been for many years. We want to operate a center that’s a stellar example. That’s no longer possible in our current economic and regulatory situation.”

Melton said Lab School staff is assisting families in finding quality child care programs that meet their needs. During the transition period, no fees will be assessed to families who provide less than the normal two-week period to terminate enrollment, according to a CVCC press release.

As for the full-time and part-time staff members losing their jobs, Hinshaw said he is confident CVCC can help get them find employment at other daycares in the area.

“My child was in this daycare center for four years,” Hinshaw said. “I know them and I know how good of a job they do there. Any daycare center in our community that could employ them, it would definitely have a good impact on their center."