Parents ask MU officials to move University Village day care, keep it open

Friday, March 7, 2014 | 3:44 p.m. CST; updated 11:10 p.m. CST, Saturday, March 8, 2014
In this May 10, 2010, photo, Kristy Ensley talks to her daughter, Jasmine, 5, while her son, Jayden, 2, rocks back in his chair at the Student Parent Center. Ensley started bringing her children to the Student Parent Center in 2005 and continued until she graduated.

*UPDATE: This story has been updated to include information about a petition that asks MU to move the Student Parent Center away from University Village.

COLUMBIA — Parents who send their children to the day care center at University Village apartments have asked MU officials to move the center to a new location.

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin responded to one parent on Thursday with the assurance that the university was talking about the future of the center and would be making an announcement soon. He replied within 30 minutes of receiving the parent's email.

Loftin and other MU officials were sent emails Thursday by some of the parents with children who attend the day care housed in Building 602 at the apartment complex.

A walkway on Building 707 collapsed there on Feb. 22, killing Columbia firefighter Bruce Britt.The residents of the building have been relocated.

The emails, shared by the parents with the Missourian, express concerns about keeping the center at University Village but also outline the reasons the parents hope the day care remains open — somewhere.

Building 602 is one of three buildings where the walkway was deemed to be at imminent risk of "a catastrophic collapse," according to an engineering report of the apartment complex released by MU on Wednesday. In 2008, it was recommended that University Village apartments be torn down by 2011, according to previous Missourian reporting. 

Wooden shoring was installed underneath all walkways at University Village following the inspection, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The day care, called the Student Parent Center, is for children of graduate and undergraduate students. The center allows parents to pay based on how many days per week of child care are needed, allowing parents to plan around their class schedules. The day care charges $205 a week for Monday through Friday, $94 a week for Tuesday and Thursday and $141 a week for Monday, Wednesday and Friday, according to 

Naomi Clark, a graduate student and parent who has two children in the day care, sent a mass email on Thursday to all parents with children at the day care, encouraging them to email MU officials to express support for the day care remaining open. Clark's two children, ages 5 and 19 months, still attend the center.

But she said she felt skeptical about the building's soundness after reading the report by engineering firm Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw, completed the day after the walkway collapsed and released Wednesday. She contacted other parents via email, and they discussed what could happen at a parents-0nly impromptu meeting. Clark said she also contacted several MU officials, including Cathy Scroggs, vice chancellor for student affairs; and Heath Immel, associate director in student auxiliary services. Immel is the day care center's administrator.

The director of the day care is Julie Shea. She declined to answer questions, referring all questions to the MU News Bureau.

Initially, parents were told at a regularly scheduled meeting four days after the walkway collapse that the building was safe, Clark said.

"I don't believe this was intentional, just neglectful," she said. "There was a lot of neglect, and people's lives were put in danger and someone was killed."

The day care staff told parents at the meeting that they had been told by the engineers that the building was safe but that was all they knew, Clark said.

Kimberly Bodner, a parent and graduate student, emailed Loftin on Thursday, asking him about the center and its future. Within 30 minutes, Loftin said in an email to Bodner that the university was considering the future of University Village and that professional engineers had assured them of the safety of the day care.

*On Friday, Bodner started an online petition asking MU to keep the day care open but to move it to a safer location. By Saturday evening, the petition had 234 supporters.

Bodner said that she planned to print the petition and that she and other student-parents would present it to Loftin and the MU administration. There was no set goal in terms of number of signatures.

Clark emailed Loftin as well. Loftin replied with "I have been repeatedly assured that the children are in a safe environment," Clark said.

"We don't want to see it close," Bodner said. She and her husband said they love the day care and its staff.

Claire Schmidt, a former MU graduate student who teaches at Missouri Valley College, a private college, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, said the day care is the only place she can send her daughter three days a week and only pay per day.

"Where else can I take her?" Schmidt said.

Schmidt,who graduated in May 2013, said she wouldn't have been able to finish her degree without the day care.

The emails suggest possible options for the day care, including moving it to a temporary location.

"My question is: What is the university's level of commitment to student-parents?" Clark said.

Joe Guszkowski contributed reporting.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

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