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Benjamin F. Reynolds
219 Vassar St., unoccupied for the past five years, will soon be demolished to make room for a new and much needed MIT daycare. Funded by David H. Koch ’62 and Charles W. Johnson ’55, the daycare is set to be finished by August 2013.
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MIT is opening a new daycare center at 219 Vassar Street, where the current building is up for demolition and will be replaced by a dedicated daycare facility. Slated to open by end of summer 2013, the new center will have spots for 126 children — nearly doubling the size of MIT’s current daycare population of 142.

The daycare center, which will be known as Technology Children’s Center (TCC) Vassar, is the fifth on-campus daycare facility at MIT. The other centers are located at Eastgate, Westgate, and Stata, and there is a new infant care room in Building 68. In addition, there is an MIT daycare in Lincoln, MA near Lincoln Labs.

TCC Vassar will have its own two-story building, with 11 classrooms that will place children with others their age. There will be outdoor facilities with a playground, climbing structure, sandpit, and gardens.

The project was made possible by donations from David Koch ’62 and Charles W. Johnson ’55 and Jennifer Johnson. MIT declined to disclose the amount of the donation. Koch most recently donated money to build the Koch Center for Integrative Cancer Research, Building 76.

It’s a “longstanding desire of many of us to see increased daycare facilities on campus,” said Edmund Bertschinger, head of the Physics Department and chair of the Work-Life Subcommittee of MIT’s Employee Benefits Oversight Committee.

The committee was “charged with providing recommendations to the administration for daycare enrollment policies, for tuition rates, and other services related to work life balance,” explained Bertschinger.

Like the other TCCs, the Vassar location will serve children aged two months to pre-kindergarten. Of the 126 children, there will be 21 infants, 45 toddlers, and 60 preschoolers. Once a child is in the facility, they can stay until they outgrow the daycare.

As in the other MIT daycares, the staff of TCC Vassar will be employed by Bright Horizons Family Solutions, an international child-care provider that runs many daycare centers in the Boston area. According to Alden, MIT participates in the hiring process for its centers, but the staff hired are still employees of Bright Horizons. MIT has been using Bright Horizons for the past 10 years.

“We haven’t set our pricing policies,” said Bertschinger of the tuition rate for the new daycare. Alison Alden, MIT Vice President of Human Resources, mentioned that “rates on campus are pretty consistent,” hinting that TCC Vassar would likely be in line with the rest of MIT’s on-campus facilities (see infographic, pg. 1).

219 Vassar Street

The current building at 219 Vassar Street is undergoing asbestos abatement. Once this is finished, the building will be demolished. MIT Facilities could not be reached for comment on the timeframe of this demolition.

The daycare is scheduled to open by August 2013. MIT trusts that the construction will go quickly.

The building is going to be “pre-assembled,” said Alden, it will be “designed for us and custom built.” The pieces will be shipped individually, “put on a foundation on site,” and assembled. Hopefully this will speed the construction process so the daycare is ready on time.

MIT purchased the building currently at 219 Vassar Street approximately six years ago, though it has been empty since then. After Koch’s donation, MIT searched through a variety of options for where to put the daycare.

“We’ve looked extensively,” said Alden. “This was the best site we could locate.”

The search began in Kendall Square, but focus shifted away from the area due to the high prices for leases. Having something convenient for campus is “an important factor for parents,” explained Alden. In addition, choosing a location in Kendall Square would have meant using part of a building instead of having a private facility, Alden continued.

Regarding the area’s safety — though homeless people can be frequently seen across the railroad tracks from the site — Alden is confident about the future daycare’s security. “The daycare center will be completely enclosed and gated,” said Alden, “We haven’t completed all the security plans for the center, but it will be good.”

The waiting game

Getting a spot in daycare can be difficult — parents can wait anywhere from one day to two years for an opening in the program.

“The motivation for a new daycare center has been the pressure on existing centers to serve the MIT community,” said Bertschinger. “We don’t have enough daycare slots for the demand from faculty, students, researchers, and staff.”

The waiting list is long, said Bertschinger. “In fact, many people aren’t able to get daycare, they go to other [providers].” MIT will help those who don’t get a slot on-campus find daycare elsewhere.

The lack of daycare slots has been apparent for quite some time, and the planning for the Stata daycare began in the mid-1990s. The faculty newsletter from April 2006 mentions the need for an increase in daycare facilities, and in the 2011 Report on Women Faculty, a faculty member laments, “There are not enough daycare slots.” The length of the current waiting list has not been disclosed.

Why not go off-campus? One, it’s expensive. Two, having daycare nearby — especially for parents with infants — is critical.

“Daycare on-site was crucial to my survival,” said the unnamed faculty member in the 2011 report.

This is a common sentiment.

Hadley Sikes, professor in Chemical Engineering, has one child in TCC Stata.

“It’s a great benefit,” she said. “It’s much easier to focus on work knowing your child is nearby.”

The central location of Stata has provided a boon to many parents. Robert A. Brown, previously provost of MIT and current president of Boston University, helped push TCC Stata through.

“I thought it was a perfect location to highlight the importance of being a family-friendly community,” he wrote in an email to The Tech. “It also serves the parents very nicely with the adjacent parking and drop-off areas.”

Slot distribution

After all the waiting, who gets a slot? It varies. 43 percent of the MIT daycare population are children of faculty, while staff have 23 percent, graduate students account for 20 percent, and postdocs 14 percent. See infographic page 9.

Sikes received her slot in daycare through a “provost slot,” but this is not the case for all faculty.

Every year, the provost can allocate 10 spots to distribute to faculty. These provost slots are primarily aimed at recruiting new women faculty, said Kaiser.

According to Bertschinger, department heads can request slots for people they are looking to hire to make MIT more attractive for potential faculty.

“The provost slots are for faculty and prioritized to give maximum effect of recruiting and retention,” he explained. “One of the aims of on-campus daycare is to help our researchers and faculty to balance their work and life in a way that promotes the success of young faculty and faculty from underrepresented groups.” In research areas where women are underrepresented, “access to convenient daycare on campus helps to facilitate their success and helps our success in recruiting.”

P. Christopher Zegras, an associate professor in Urban Studies and Planning, got off the waiting list for daycare in one day without a provost slot.

“I was expecting to have to look at other center by Bright Horizons,” he said. But he “got lucky.”

While the provost slots do go to faculty, and the majority of the parents are faculty members, TCC is not meant to be “an elitist daycare institution,” said Leigh H. Royden, a Course 12 (Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary) professor who has been involved with expanding daycare at MIT in the past as associate chair of the faculty. “It’s definitely not all faculty kids. There are scholarships and subsidies for lower-income and student parents.”

Unfortunately for graduate students, the scholarships are being phased out.

Though graduate students are represented in MIT daycare, more slots are needed. “Six to eight percent of graduate students have kids, and an even larger number, between 25 and 30 percent, have a partner and may be considering having children,” said Brian Spatocco G, president of the Graduate Student Council (GSC). “Childcare on campus is a scarce resource, and the community shouldn’t be competing against each other for what’s a necessity.”

Spatocco was happy to hear the news about TCC Vassar. “I am hopeful and expectant that some of this capacity will go to grad students and postdocs, or at least be available to them.”

Kaiser hopes that the new facility will provide relief to the heavy demand. Asked whether the increase in on-campus slots would lead to an increase in provost slots, Kaiser smiled.

“The new facility is essentially going to meet all of the faculty needs,” he said. “I don’t even think it’s going to be an issue.”

Royden, who was instrumental in getting TCC Stata off the ground and names that accomplishment as one of the most important things she’s done at MIT, was happy to hear about the new center.

“It’s great, we don’t have enough daycare,” she said, “There still won’t be enough, but it’ll be better.”

“Getting the children’s center was not a woman’s issue,” she said, reflecting on the creation of TCC Stata. “It was an MIT issue.”

The gift

The wheels started to turn for TCC Vassar in March of 2011, when the Biology Visiting Committee, which had both Koch and Johnson on it, was meeting at MIT. (Visiting committees report to the MIT Corporation on the state of the Institute about a variety of issues; they come to campus every two years.)

Late during the committee’s evaluation, they sat down with several biology postdocs for dinner.

“David Koch happened to be sitting next to a very lively, friendly, outspoken woman postdoc in Building 68 who at the time was visibly pregnant,” recounted Chris A. Kaiser PhD ’87, current provost of MIT, who was at the dinner because he was head of the Biology department, “She gave him an earful about [the state of daycare at MIT].”

When the visit of a committee ends, there is a verbal review with the committee speaking to the senior officials of the MIT Corporation. Koch and Johnson had to leave early and did not make it to this meeting last year.

Near the end of the meeting, Kaiser said, one corporation member stood up and said he wanted to talk about childcare. Kaiser braced himself for another speech about how MIT needs more daycare that wouldn’t happen. He was pleasantly surprised.

“A huge grin burst out on [the corporation member’s] face,” said Kaiser, “and he said that Koch and Johnson had agreed to give a gift to MIT” — to fund an entire daycare center.

“We are grateful to David Koch and to Chuck and Jen Johnson for supporting this facility, which will be very beneficial in MIT’s efforts to recruit and retain the best faculty, staff, postdocs and graduate students,” President L. Rafael Reif said in a statement. “Time and time again, members of our community have told us how important, convenient, and high-quality childcare is in their decisions on where to build their careers. This new facility is an excellent response to that need.”

Information and Input on TCC Vassar

Slots at TCC Vassar will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis from the existing waiting list, which has a set of enrollment policies that can be viewed online at http://hrweb.mit.edu/mitchildcare/enrolling/policies.html#enroll.

Those looking for more information on TCC Vassar can check the website at http://hrweb.mit.edu/mitchildcare/centers/vassar/.

Bertschinger mentioned that the benefits committee is looking for advice and input from the MIT community, and encourages those who have suggestions for the daycare center to email ebocwork-life@mit.edu.