Model HCC childcare center to get model playground

It might be a day late, but it’s certainly not a dollar short.

A $235,000 playground is coming to the daycare center at Haywood Community College, a long-awaited capstone on a project that was heralded as a model child development center when it opened three-and-a-half years ago.

Clark and Leatherwood construction company of Waynesville was the lowest of five bidders. The playground will take two months to build and could begin as early as next week.

“We hope we can get these kids out there playing by the end of July,” said Bill Dechant, an architect and director of campus development at HCC.

It’s not a moment to soon for Steffie Duginske, a mom with two kids at the HCC child development center.

“We were told when we enrolled our kids there that the money was in the bank and they were in the process of getting a playground going, but time just clicked on and here we are three years later and there is still no playground,” Duginske said.

The playground primarily will be paid for with money left over from construction of the childcare center. Indeed the money was there, but Duginske has been frustrated with the slow pace of bringing it to fruition and the lack of a clear time table until now. Meanwhile, she has looked longingly at the plans and blueprints for the playground that hung on the wall in the hallway for more than a couple of years.

The design was based on brainstorming sessions with parents and children who were asked to envision their dream playground.

“It was a long process, and I don’t know if people realized it would not be something that happened overnight,” said Karen Denney, the director of business operations at HCC. “Every time we had a focus group that mentioned something, the designer was going back and doing renderings based on the input.”

Just as plans were finally getting finished, the person in charge of the playground left and the project ended up in a holding pattern for the lack of a point person over it.

Also, because HCC is a state government entity, it has more arduous policies to follow, including a multi-step bid process when seeking contractors.

“It just wasn’t a quick process to do,” Denney said.

The children do go outside to play, but the spot where the playground is supposed to be is just a large expanse of wood chips. The toddlers have their own play yard with a smattering of temporary plastic toys placed around it.

The long-awaited playground will arguably be first-rate.

“We are very happy it is happening now,” said Rita Wilson, director of the HCC child development center.

The HCC child development center is less than half full. It was built for a capacity of 163 children but serves only about 70 at the moment.

The center opened just as the recession hit. Parents who lost their jobs no longer had a need for childcare, with the number of stay-at-home dads rising in particular.

Meanwhile, state and federal subsidies for childcare have been cut, so working parents with low-wage jobs or parents trying to go to school simply can’t afford childcare, Wilson said.

Given the on-campus location, the childcare center is popular with HCC employees and students. But, it is open to anyone — something that many parents might not realize and could be another reason for the lower-than-anticipated enrollment numbers, Wilson said.

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