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Solving day-care problem 'at home.' (evaluates construction of day care centers in residential developments) (Insider Outlook ) (Column)

Just a handful of on-site day care centers exist in the workplace in New York City. Companies like Time Warner, Bankers Trust, Chase Manhattan, Cravath, Swaine & Moore, and Goldman Sachs come to mind. Most of these, however, are emergency centers -- designed for use when regular child care arrangements fall through. In fact, while 60 percent of companies with more than 100 employees in the New York area offer some type of child care benefits, only 5 percent of these offer it on-site, according to the Hay/Huggins Benefits Report issued by the benefits consulting firm in 1992.

Employers don't have to be the only ones to offer day care, however. Developers can, too. Some have incorporated day care centers into commercial settings and industrial parks, according to the Urban Land Institute. But, almost unheard of are on-site day care centers incorporated into privately-developed residential communities.

Why? This is infinitely more convenient for parents who are no longer forced to trek to work on crowded public transit systems with their children. Also, most people will not be lucky enough to work for a company offering day care for the rest of their lives -- and will need to find day care all over again when they leave. When my company, Leewood Real Estate Group, began planning for a 586-townhouse community in Staten Island, Celebration at Rainbow Hill, we became interested in providing a day care center. We first tried to check out the competition in other privately-developed residential communities in New York. We couldn't find any. At that point, we knew we had a unique concept going for us.

Surprised, we decided to plan an ideal day care center from scratch, one that could handle at least 100 children. It's called Celebration for Kids. We made it look child-friendly -- designed with building-block shapes, bright primary colors, huge sunny windows, skylights, and a basement gym filled with playthings. We contracted with an extremely gifted operator who structured an unusually enriched curriculum -- so children could learn cognitive, social and emotional skills, and have fun at the same time.

The age range was set at two months to 12 years, since convenient infant day care is often hard to find. Celebration for Kids has extended hours -- not dash-home-early from work. For safety reasons, we have buzzer and check-in systems which guarantee security and make sure that only appropriately authorized people can pick up a child.

The response has been gratifying. Residents like the fact that they can just walk out of their home, take a few steps, and drop off their child before commuting to work. Many say it was the main reason for their moving to Celebration. All say it removes a huge burden from their shoulders and makes them feel less hassled and more productive at work -- and better able to cope when they come home.

According to the Child Care Action Campaign, 51 percent of all mothers to work before their baby's first birthday in this country. Women with children under age six, in fact, are the fastest-growing segment of the work force; 57 percent of them now work. Seventy-three percent of all working women are of childbearing age, and 60 percent of all school-age children have mothers in the work force.

Households with two working parents are part of our future. Their needs require attention beyond the usual physical throw-ins that have traditionally been provided. Homebuilders have offered all kinds of amenities to buyers and renters for years -- jacuzzis, skylights, swimming pools, media rooms, Eurostyle kitchens, you name it. These are luxuries, not necessities. Some succeeded; others were trendy, but provided no real long-term benefit.

Why not provide something infinitely more basic and valuable -- an onsite, professionally- staffed day care facilities in a pleasant environment, for their residents' children?

Lee, president of the Staten Island-based Leewood Real Estate Group, has built more than 2,500 units of mostly low- and moderate-income housing in New York City. He is also chairman of the Urban Revitalization Committee of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and president of the Building Industry Association of New York City, Inc.
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Author:Lee, R. Randy
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 15, 1993
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