City looks for alternatives, Bailey Community Center set to close Sept. 4

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By Shireen Mohyi
Entirely East Lansing

Pre-kindergarten teacher Allison Richmond in the facility gym that has been used as a ballet studio, in-door recess and a theater for childcare students.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Allison Richmond in the facility gym that has been used as a ballet studio, in-door recess and a theater for childcare students.

The Bailey Community Center has been a much-talked about subject for the East Lansing City Council and city residents this year.

In January,  City Council voted on closing the early age childcare program. The program has been the primary user and the largest program at the community center, though                                  only one-third of enrollees are East Lansing residents.

“It’s sad, it’s really sad. When I came on, Nora Thompson was the director. She had this huge vision for Bailey (Community Center) and it was such a great place, and the kids were great and the staff was great, and it was a great program and it had so much potential for us to take it even farther. Then the whole budget thing just came and cut that down,” said interim administrator and kindergarten teacher at the Bailey childcare program Bethanie Mazuca.

The building, at 300 Bailey St., has been a part of East Lansing since the early 1920s when it started as an elementary school. Despite its longstanding history in the city, council members say that maintaining the building in the immediate future would cost around $500,000 a year.

Families are still enrolling in the childcare program set for the summer, and many have been placed on a waiting list due to high demand, according to Mazuca.

Families are still enrolling in the childcare program set for the summer, and many have been placed on a waiting list due to high demand, according to Mazuca.

There is $26,860 that has already been invested in the community center to keep it operating as usual. About $209,600 more needs to be invested to keep it fully operating past June 30, according to the City of East Lansing’s website regarding the building.

Mazuca said signs of the building’s closing were evident since last September. Budget issues arose when classes had to combine to reduce facility cost and staff pay, which affected families of the children and the childcare’s leadership staff.

There has been disagreement between the public and the city council over the fate of the center. City council met March 25 to go over the plans for the community center, where members decided on holding a public facilitation to agree on the future of the building.

“Some residents are certainly upset by the closure. The goal now is to not focus on what happened in the past but focus on determining a viable plan for the future,” said Deputy City Manager and Director of the Department of Planning, Building and Development Tim Dempsey.

There are no other facilities in East Lansing being considered for closure, according to Dempsey. The only other thing the city is considering is shifting the management of SCENE Metrospace Art Gallery to Michigan State University.

Dempsey said that the best outcome for the Bailey Community Center would be to find a reuse of the facility that the neighborhood would support without any subsidy from the city.

During the council’s Jan. 25 meeting, Council Member Kathleen Boyle suggested an idea called Strategic Doing. The company specializes in educating business owners in coming up with creative methods to best utilize their company. In this case, it would be coming up with the best use of the community center.

“I am committed to the use of collaborative planning processes, particularly where there is a high degree of citizen interest and differing opinions regarding what should happen,” said Boyle.

“Although I initially suggested Strategic Doing for the Bailey Community Center, the city has decided that given a number of factors, facilitation with an outside neutral facilitator will work best in this particular situation.”

The budget for the childcare program alone is estimated to be $150,000, and with 40 children the program, city taxpayers are subsidizing $3,720 per child each year. The biggest factor when closing the childcare program was the number of East Lansing residents that were benefitting from childcare.

At the time of the decision making, only 13 of the 40 enrollees lived in the city. City Council failed to note that childcare is a convenience for parents from surrounding areas who work in East Lansing, according to Mazuca.

“The other families come from surrounding areas. We have families from Perry, Lansing, I’m from Grand Ledge. It’s just where the work is. The families are coming here for MSU, (some) because of work and some of the kids have parents of East Lansing who work for the city.

They’re making their way out here and this is what’s convenient and this is what’s helpful for them. It’s in such a great location and we have the park and have campus to visit. It’s just really sad,” said Mazuca.

The childcare program includes the infant room, toddler 1 room, toddler 2 room, a preschool. The program offers classrooms filled with age-appropriate activities, cognitive skill development, fine and gross motor skill development and free-time for the children to play, according to Mazuca.

Though the news is unfortunate to enrollees and employees of the childcare program, pre-kindergarten teacher Allison Richmond understands the council’s decision to close the building.

“Well I know that there’s a lot of updates that the building needed and it’s been around forever and it would cost so much to update the building so as far as the city’s concerned, making that call financially, it was probably the only (choice) they had.

City council reports that it would take an estimated $500,000 to keep the building operating.

City council reports that it would take an estimated $500,000 to keep the building operating.

But as far as the family and the kids that come here and for me working here personally, it’s upsetting. We build relationships with the kids, most of them start in the infant room and move up until they’re 4 or 5, so we have these relationships with the kids and the parents so it’s going to be difficulty, but I understand financially why the city had to make the call,” said Richmond.

The childcare center has been working in preparation to place its students at local daycares. Eastminster Church and The People’s Church have been popular alternatives to Bailey families. A lot of families are still on waiting lists for summer classes, according to Mazuca.

Though arrangements are being made to ease the transition, East Lansing resident Melanie Wallace is worried for her son’s reaction to the changes.

“I understand the decision to shut everything down, but it’s really unfortunate for the kids and parents. My son has been here for a couple of years now and it’s going to be hard for him to switch locations and move from his friends. It’s a sad situation but there’s nothing we can do,” said Wallace.

Superintendent of Cole Academy Brian Shaughnessy said in the report that he believes Red Cedar Elementary School or Bailey Community Center would be “ideal second locations for an academy.” Shaughnessy was reached for comment.

“East Lansing’s many neighborhoods,of which the Bailey Neighborhood is one, make East Lansing a vibrant and interesting place to live.

The Bailey Community Center Building has an impact on the Bailey Neighborhood and its use and development will impact East Lansing. We need to be thoughtful in any decision making,” said Boyle.

A facilitated dialog on the future of the Bailey Community Center between the community and city council will be held over two sessions on April 27 and May 4.

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