Agencies help bring child care center to D.C.

A new low-cost, high-quality child care center designed for children of low and middle income families is coming to the D.C. area this spring thanks to a unique public-private partnership involving five federal agencies, the D.C. government and two major corporations.

The center will offer lower-income families child care services at non-traditional hours, from 6:30 a.m to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and for non-traditional prices. Tuition will be subsidized through private funds, scholarships and grants for those who cannot afford full rates.

"There's never been a partnership like this with a major corporation," said Susan Clampitt, GSA's associate administrator for childcare. "This is a case where a community actually came together to solve a problem."

GSA brokered the deal for the partnership, called the Penn Quarter Partnership for Children and Families. It will combine the resources of GSA, the Departments of Justice, Treasury and Labor, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, Marriott Corporation and Kaiser Permanente.

The center is open to all federal employees, but supporting agencies will benefit most from the center's close proximity-410 8th St. NW in Washington D.C.

The Marriott Corporation approached GSA with the idea to offer affordable child care to its hotel staff, who often work unusual hours, and to federal workers in the area, who often cannot afford the D.C. market rate for infant care, which is $200-$250 per week.

Child care is a major problem nationwide because of its burdensome costs. Even though families employed by the federal government have convenient access to child care, they can't always pay for it because agencies charge market rates, Clampitt said. "It can be a very hefty bill for a young family to have to pay."

The entire deal totalled nearly $2 million, with $1.2 million in capital construction costs, GSA said. GSA and its other federal partners are contributing half of the construction costs and the D.C. government will fund the remainder. Furnishings, playground equipment and other costs will be shared by the D.C. government, Marriott, and the federal agencies.

GSA signed the 8 1/2 year lease for the 12,000 square foot center and is dropping $120,000 in lease acquisition fees from the price tag.

In addition, Marriott will offer private funds through its foundations to support scholarships and other financial assistance for low and middle-income families. The center's rates will be offered on a sliding scale, based on family size and total family income. For families that earn less than $27,000 annually, the rates will be between $0 and $78 a week.

The center's services will include child care and health education for parents. Kaiser Permanente will offer health insurance for uninsured children, CPR training, parent and staff health and parenting education and physical exams and immunizations.

Judging by the response so far, the idea is a hit, Clampitt said. GSA and Marriott have received calls from around the nation about starting similar programs. "The phone's been ringing off the hook," she said.

But, first, the D.C. center must get off the ground. The program is currently accepting bids from child care providers while completing construction at the site. According to GSA, the center should be completed by late March, but it won't open for business until much later this spring.

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