It isn’t often everyone is in agreement, but the “thumbs up” being given by the kids, staff and parents at the new Child Development Center (CDC) at Naval Air Station Patuxent River seems to be one of those rare occurrences.
The CDC is a state-of-the-art, light-filled, secure and user-friendly 38,169 square-foot building that recently celebrated its official grand opening, Oct. 23.
“We love the building location, the way it looks and how the teachers and parents have taken to it,” said Phyllis Leighton, Child and Youth Programs director. “And the kids seem very happy in their new spaces.”
The new CDC, located in building 2813 off Cuddihy Road, accommodates more than 350 children, comprising infants, pre-toddlers, toddlers and preschoolers, in nearly 30 child activity rooms, each with direct access to outside playgrounds.
“The building’s exterior design, with its curvilinear canopies, reflects a playfulness that hints at what goes on inside,” explained Robert Cipolloni, the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Washington construction manager for the project.
The front lobby boasts high ceilings, lots of natural light, contemporary furniture, welcoming colors and photographs that purposefully look as if they were taken along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay.
The hallway walls are dotted with handmade art created by the kids and displayed low, at their eye-level.
Large cubbies conveniently hold infant car seats, tucked away after morning drop-off and stored until evening pickup.
Leighton reiterated that building safety is a priority with anti-terrorism/force protection design, blast-resistant windows and electronic sensors. Front doors are locked at 9 a.m. and not reopened until sometime around 3 p.m. Parents are issued enrollment cards that are swiped during drop off and pick up. In off-hours, visitors are buzzed in by staff and guests must sign in and wear badges at all times. Other doors throughout the facility remain secured and an intrusion alarm will sound if they are opened.
“Each classroom has two cameras and the images are shown on multiple monitors in the front lobby,” Leighton said. “They rotate several times per minute, so we’re always able to see what’s going on.”
Staff, which numbers 105, wear certain colors that help identify their position and status.
Health and cleanliness is also important. Some rooms have toothbrush holders that automatically sanitize their colorful kid-size contents; infant and pre-toddler teachers wear cloth booties over their shoes to avoid tracking dirt into classrooms; and changing stations have exhaust fans to help with … well, you know what.
“My son is greeted so nicely every morning,” said Yeoman 3rd Class Lashanda Watlington, “and the first thing they say is ‘take off your jacket and go wash your hands before playing.’ He grabs a paper towel, dries his hands and puts it in the trash. He’s only 1 year old. They taught him the importance of washing his hands.”
Facilities are energy efficient with low-flow toilets that flush themselves, automatic sinks and sensors that turn off lights when rooms are not in use; and the building is listed as LEED Silver certified, which means it meets certain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards.
The industrial kitchen, staffed by a head chef and three cooks, prepares and serves 1,200 meals per day, and when pasta is on the menu, they’re cooking 20 pounds of noodles at a time.
“Hot lunch is prepared every day at 11:30, with breakfast at 8:30 and also a daily snack,” Leighton said.
Even former staff members who had grown attached to their old classrooms are enjoying what the new CDC has to offer.
“I loved where I was before, in building 2030, and I was nervous about moving,” said Amy Ridgell, pre-school teacher, “but I like that the classroom here provides 100 percent visibility of all the children as they learn and play. I love the accessibility of the playground from the classroom, and all the new staff members give the kids the opportunity to make new friends. It’s a beautiful new facility, and it’s home now.”
But, ultimately, it comes down to the children and whether they look forward to going each day — and that’s more about the staff than the building.
“When you’re a single parent and you’re in a rush, you want your child to go willingly,” Watlington said. “I consider the CDC teachers my son’s other moms. When I’m not there, they’re doing my job. Kids can sense who are good people, and my son is always willing to go. They’re good people.”
Building 434, one of the former CDC buildings vacated by the move to the new facility, will be demolished. The other building, building 2030, is slated to be refurbished and renovated for continued use.
While the start date for work on either has yet to be determined, Leighton said renovating building 2030 adds 88 spots for child care.