Childcare Center, Parking Garage Benefit All Campus Partners
Parents offer their thoughts on the new Bernice E. Lavin Early Childhood Education Center..
More than 150 children got their first glimpses of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s new, state-of-the-art Bernice E. Lavin Early Childhood Education Center when it opened earlier this month at 441 E. Ontario St. Building on a 16-year history of offering onsite childcare to employees, the new center -- the largest employer-sponsored childcare center in the city -- responds to a growing demand that had resulted in a wait list of up to a year. Licensed for 320 children, the new center benefits Northwestern Memorial families as well as those of our campus partners.
The center encompasses the bottom two floors of a facility that also includes 11 levels of employee parking, a project that helped pave the way for Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago to come to the downtown medical campus. The 1,118-space garage meets the city’s requirement that additional parking be brought to campus in order for Lurie Children’s to receive approval to move to 225 E. Chicago Ave., just west of Northwestern Memorial’s Prentice Women’s Hospital. The garage also is open to Northwestern Memorial and campus partners.
"Recognizing the needs of employees and responding to the growing demand for onsite childcare services, we made a commitment to build a new and larger childcare facility,” says Dean L. Manheimer, senior vice president of Human Resources at Northwestern Memorial HealthCare. “With the opening of the new center, we are excited to be able to better accommodate our employees and to be able to extend this benefit to our campus partners.”
Operated by Bright Horizons, a leading provider of early childhood education, the childcare center became a reality thanks to a generous donation from the Lavin family.
“The Lavin family philanthropy in honor of Bernice E. Lavin has provided our employees with one of the greatest gifts possible; a warm, loving, caring childcare environment that nurtures their children,” says Stephen C. Falk, president of Northwestern Memorial Foundation. “The Lavin’s have helped ensure Northwestern Medicine® caregivers will provide enhanced care because they have the certainty their family is being cared for in a compassionate environment.”
Onsite childcare was key to Tracy Biskner’s ability to be a successful working mom. Biskner, who is the executive director of New Research Hospital Planning at Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, says having her children nearby while she is at work gives her peace-of-mind.
“I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing without it,” Biskner says. “I wouldn't be as productive, I wouldn't be as successful in my roles as a mom and a hospital employee. Something would have to give. It is really refreshing to know that offering onsite childcare is a priority.”
A comprehensive learning program and child-focused design create a rich early childhood education experience. Dedicated art, science and music teachers and rooms bring children out of their classrooms for hands-on, subject-specific learning. Technology including a touch-screen sign-in system, computers in each classroom and a SMART board streamline the drop-off process for parents and enhance education.
“Not only is the center beautiful, but is so well thought out. The natural light and openness make it feel welcoming. It is child centered, but not in a cutesy way,” says Stefanie Klein, BSN, RN, a Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation staff nurse who has been at the center for seven years. Her two sons, Noah, 7, and Shea, 2, have been at the center since they were 12 weeks old. “Going from their home base to special rooms like science, art and music will be instrumental in preparing them for a school environment. This is not the kind of center where you pull out a tambourine in one corner of the room to learn about music. I knew it would be nice, but this is head and shoulders above what I expected and it is a true benefit and perk of working here.”
A rooftop garden provides the children with the opportunity to plant, care for and harvest herbs, tomatoes and more. With a busy, urban area as the backdrop, the center incorporates nature and imagination-based play. Most of the classrooms are along the perimeter of the building to bring in natural light. The elements of light, water, air, plants and earth are incorporated into the design throughout the facility. An age-specific playground on each level of the center includes bike paths, a sandbox, hills, tunnels and more traditional equipment like slides and climbing structures. The all-weather covered playgrounds allow for year-round play and protection from direct sun.
“I like the environmental focus and the educational opportunities that will be provided by the rooftop garden,” says Jennifer Benton, manager of Claims and Litigation at Northwestern Memorial. Benton has been at the center for nearly five years, since her oldest son, Henry, now a kindergartener, was 8-months-old. She also has a 7-month-old daughter, Madeleine, in an infant room. “I’m excited for Madeleine to go through the whole program there. I like the fact that the playground is covered and that they will be able to use it more throughout the year.”
A thoughtful design incorporates elements of sustainability and energy efficiency, which supports Northwestern Memorial’s strategy of earning LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification on all projects. Safety and security also were top of mind in designing and operating both the center and garage. There is 24-hour security at the center and in the garage and badge access is required to both enter and exit the childcare center. A second floor bridge from the parking garage allows parents who have children on the second level of the center to access it there rather than taking an elevator from the first level. Infant and toddler rooms are on the first level and preschool, kindergarten and camp are on the second level.
On the fifth floor of the garage, 20 spots are designated for parents who do not park in the garage to stay for 30 minutes to drop off or pick up their children. This provides all parents with off-street parking to access the center.
The rest of the garage is designated for employees of Northwestern Memorial and campus partners. Large spaces and the design of the garage are a plus for those using it. While the garage is not completely enclosed, glass panels on each level provide some protection from inclement weather.
“I think it’s a great facility. It’s clean and the spaces are a good size. I think the other garage was a little tighter of a squeeze, whereas here you have the room to get your car in,” says Sarah Mazur, investment analyst in the Office of Investments at Northwestern Memorial. “I think it will help with the elements. It’s easy to get to and nice to walk by the childcare center and see the kids. I enjoy it.”