It was an interesting idea, more than 10 years ago, to start up an intergenerational day care center at the Champaign County Nursing Home. But it's become apparent that the idea has not caught on with the public. It's time to end the experiment.
Even at its peak, the child care center at the nursing home in east Urbana had an average monthly census of only 35 to 40 infants and toddlers. In recent years that number has fallen to an average of about 20 children. Today, there are only 13 children in the facility, although, in fairness, the director of the facility, Karen Foster, said she has not been taking new clients in recent months because she was warned that the center could close at any time.
The most troubling numbers, though, have to do with the facility's finances. It had an operating loss of $117,000 last year. Over the last five years, the county nursing home and the county's general corporate fund have had to cover $412,000 in losses. In the last fiscal year, the child care facility had average operating expenses of $98.51 per child per day, versus $35.12 per day per child in average revenue.
And there's little reason to expect a turnaround at the facility, even if it moves – as planned – into the new county nursing home this spring. The average age of Champaign County employees – the target market for the facility – is 42.5 years. Most county employees have passed the age when they are raising preschoolers. In addition, local child care providers say the Champaign County market has become saturated.
The child care center's rates are not out of the ordinary. They are $213 for a five-day week for an infant, $208 per week for a toddler, $181 for a 2-year-old and $170 for a preschooler, all about average. So the county and its child care administrators have done their best to make the facility work. But it's apparent it won't.
Meanwhile, the county has other, more urgent spending needs to attend to, not the least of which is the nursing home itself. Last year, the county had to lend the facility some $400,000 to keep it solvent. And financing the construction of the new nursing home, particularly after problems with mold, is proving problematic and costly.
County board members should not feel compelled to keep pouring money into the money-losing child care facility. They gave the idea more than a fair trial, and it didn't work.