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SUNY Upstate purchases long-vacant building in downtown Syracuse to expand child care

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — SUNY Upstate Medical University has purchased the former Four Winds building, located at 650-672 S. Salina St., Syracuse, stretching its campus further west into downtown Syracuse.

The building will serve as the new site of the university's expanded child care center that serves employees and students, as well as a location for various university offices. Other plans for the building are still being addressed, officials say.

The new building is expected to triple the amount of space the university devotes to child care, allowing for increased enrollment and expansion of child care services.

With SUNY Upstate's purchase of the building, a key piece of downtown real estate will once again be a hub of activity. The building has been vacant since Four Winds closed in 2004.

"We're delighted to add this building and location to our campus," said SUNY Upstate President David R. Smith, M.D. "As our educational, patient care and research missions grow, buildings, such as this one, provide us with much needed space to move forward with many of our objectives."

An expanded child care center is an important element of the SUNY Upstate Initiative, the $510 million capital projects plan announced by Smith in September. The plan outlines the capital projects necessary to strengthen the core missions of the university to address key issues in healthcare, such as shortages of healthcare professionals and access to care.

To address those vital issues, the university must increase its student enrollment and recruit more faculty and staff, thus the importance of investing in child care, Smith said. "An investment in children through the expansion of our child care facilities and services is key as we attract and retain talented students, faculty and staff," he said. "This investment also furthers our work to ensure the university environment remains attractive and supportive to students and staff with young families."

The need for additional child care opportunities for students and employees is significant. Currently only 66 children, ages six weeks to five years, are enrolled in the Upstate Child Care Center, which provides care weekdays from 6:45 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The current facility, located at 618 Irving Ave., is too small to accommodate additional children and onsite parking for child drop-off is nearly non-existent.

The current child care center has about 5,600 square feet including a classroom in Jacobsen Hall. The new location will have at least 15,000 square feet devoted to child care.

In addition, the Four Winds location will provide convenient pick up and drop off parking for families with a 100-space parking lot. It also features a large enclosed courtyard.

Clare White, director of Upstate Child Care Center, said the new site gives the child care center room to grow. "This new location provides us with much needed space to support additional families and to develop new programming and services that have been otherwise unavailable to us because of space constraints in our current location."

The new location could accommodate at least 150 children and possibly more, White said. As the center's enrollment grows so will the number of staff members. The center currently employs 17 people and serves as an internship site for early childhood education students from Keuka College and Onondaga Community College, and for child and family studies students from Syracuse University.

The university will spend the next several months renovating the building with a projected move-in date for the child care center of Fall 2008. Discussions about what other offices will join the child care center at the new location are under way.

The Upstate Child Care Center is accredited by The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). It opened in 1970 and is recognized as one of the oldest employer-sponsored child care centers in the United States. While it serves mainly SUNY Upstate families, the center operates separately of the university with its own board of directors.

The purchase of the Four Winds building is a strategic move for the university as it now provides SUNY Upstate with its own building in downtown Syracuse. Gov. Spitzer earlier this month at a local conference said moving SUNY campuses back into downtowns is a priority.

"There's a renewed energy and interest in what downtown Syracuse has to offer and we're delighted to be there," said Smith.

While the focus of the new building will be child care, it has the ability to be a base of operations for expanded university-community programming and partnerships, he said.

The Four Winds building was built in 1956 and expanded in 1989. The building is 113,000 square feet and sits on three acres.

Upstate Child Care Center At a Glance

—Enrollment: 66 children, ages six weeks to five years. —Cost of care: rates are based on a sliding scale and are under the county market child care rates released in Sept. 2007. —As a SUNY child care center, it receive New York state block grant money to provide eligible students with reduced tuition. —Opened in 1970 and is one of the oldest employer-sponsored child care centers in the country. —Accredited by National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).