Air Force sees need for $24M Wright-Patt child care center

Valissa Williams, assistant teacher, Child Development Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, reads a book to toddlers in August 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ty Greenlees)
Caption
Valissa Williams, assistant teacher, Child Development Center, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, reads a book to toddlers in August 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo/Ty Greenlees)

Credit: Ty Greenlees

Credit: Ty Greenlees

One child care site had gas leak problems and ‘insect and vermin infestation.’

The Air Force has identified a need for a new, $24 million child care center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, to serve the base’s more than 30,000 military and civilian employees, according to federal military construction documents.

The documents describe one of the base’s current child care centers — a 62-year-old former school building outside the base perimeter — as having an “insect and vermin infestation” and one gas leak that caused children to be evacuated. No children are in any health or safety risk at the center and inspections are conducted on a regular basis, Wright-Patterson representatives said..

Federal money for the new center has not been allocated, but Dayton advocates and U.S. Rep. Mike Turner are pushing for funding, and some observers believe the project has a shot.

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The project today ranks No. 6 out of 30 unfunded Air Force projects, according to Michael Gessel, vice president of federal government programs for the Dayton Development Coalition. That’s “fairly high up,” he said.

The Air Force selects and ranks its priorities.

“What it means is, the Air Force has formally told Congress that this is a project that they want, and if they had the money, this is what they would build,” Gessel said in an interview. “But there was insufficient money allocated through the Air Force budgeting process.”

Documents obtained by the Dayton Daily News say current child care facilities at Wright-Patterson “can’t accommodate the total waiting list, which ranges between 200-415 children.”

“Parents have to wait in excess of 90 days to place their children in child care,” says one document titled “FY (fiscal year) 2022 MILITARY CONSTRUCTION PROJECT DATA.”

The child development center in the former school building is “in poor condition and is impacting the provision of child care,” one of the federal documents says.

The document points to problems at the facility, including “issues with deteriorating structural systems, failing utilities, and insect and vermin infestation (which) detract from the ability to provide quality care and results in excessive service calls and causing the shutdown of child care activities in some cases.”

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The document also identifies “facility failures (including) a failing pump leading to burned and smoking rubber gaskets, resulting in a 30-minute evacuation of the child care center. A gas leak resulted in a four-hour evacuation. Failed components in the fire protection system resulted in a 24-hour fire watch so that difficult-to-obtain spare parts can be obtained and repairs made.”

A recent inspection identified that child care center as one of the top two concerns at Wright-Patterson, due to its location outside the secure perimeter and along a major thoroughfare, the document says.

“Failure to replace the child development center and provide additional child care spaces will leave dependent children in inadequate and undersized facilities and will negatively impact morale of personnel,” the document adds.

‘Children are not at risk’

Child care at Wright-Patterson is offered at four child development centers housed in three facilities, the document says. That includes one building at 156 Spinning Road in the Prairies subdivision, a Riverside housing area for base personnel off Airway Road. The other two facilities are on Area A and Area B on the base, according to a base web site.

Sam Conner, a child care technician, reads a book to Georgia Rupert at the New Horizon Child Development Center on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last June. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/SENIOR AIRMAN EMILY RUPERT
Caption
Sam Conner, a child care technician, reads a book to Georgia Rupert at the New Horizon Child Development Center on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base last June. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO/SENIOR AIRMAN EMILY RUPERT

The base child development centers are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and certified by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Air Force. Children of active duty military and Department of Defense civilians are eligible for care at the centers, according to a Wright-Patterson Support Squadron web site. They are regulated not by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, but by the DoD.

According to online information about the center at 156 Spinning Road, the center’s DoD certification expires in February 2022. Its most recent “higher headquarters” inspection was dated Aug. 13, 2020. Its national accreditation expires Nov. 1.

Inspection details have not been made available, but according to www.militarychildcare.com, the site meets DoD standards in personnel management, background check, oversight and inspections, fire and safety, health and sanitation and other areas.

The three other base centers housed in two other on-base buildings have similar accreditation language at the web site.

A statement from the 88th Air Base Wing, the unit that acts as the landlord for the sprawling Air Force base, said children are not at risk at any of the base’s child care centers.

The New Horizon Child Development Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/R.J. Oriez)
Caption
The New Horizon Child Development Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. (U.S. Air Force photo/R.J. Oriez)

Credit: 88th Air Base Wing

Credit: 88th Air Base Wing

The base also said the new child care center, now under design, would be built on the base, relocating children from “a 60+ year old deteriorated facility.”

“We are committed to providing our families safe, healthy and high quality child care services,” the air base wing said in a statement in response to questions from the Dayton Daily News. “Children are not at any health or safety risk in any of our four child development centers (CDC) on the installation.”

Each year, in accordance with Air Force regulations, each base center undergoes four local and one higher headquarters comprehensive inspections with “a focus on health and safety to assure the well-being of the children and staff are maintained,” the base said.

“We take pride that we provide a safe and healthy environment for both the children and staff. Should a situation ever arise that jeopardizes the safety of our children, the facility will be evacuated,” the base also said. “Additionally, we conduct daily, weekly and monthly health and safety inspections of the facilities and the playgrounds.”

“Not only will the new CDC require less routine maintenance, it will be larger, accommodating over 300 children, allowing us to provide child care for more families and shrinking our waiting list for care,” the base said.

‘Child care is a priority’

Prospects for making the new child care center a reality are strong in Gessel’s view.

“They will require a push from both the House and the Senate,” he said. “But because the Air Force has formally stated that this is a priority, then with a Congressional push, it can be funded. But it’s not automatic.”

In an interview, Turner, R-Dayton, said he has asked colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee, as well as House appropriators, that money be carved out in the new budget year for the child care center.

“There are a lot of priorities and requests this year, especially coming out of COVID, and the increased needs that military employees have,” Turner said. “So we’ll have to see how these priorities evolve.”

For a lot of these projects, federal officials pay attention to the Dayton Development Coalition’s ranking of local needs and priorities, the congressman also said. “Our office monitors unfunded priority requests that affect Wright-Patterson Air Force Base,” he said.

Turner said he is also aware of the need for a new Army Reserve and National Guard center at the base.

When Congress adds projects, they can be taken from a list of unfunded priorities for services, Gessel said. Advocates hope that happens in this case.

Wright-Patterson, Ohio’s largest concentration of employees at a single site, is home to a growing number of workers with children. Base spokespeople typically give that number of employees as about 30,000, but Gessel said the number is actually north of that.

“The official number is actually higher, at least as of (fiscal year) 2019,” he said.

With more uniformed personnel being assigned to Wright-Patterson or civilian employees being offered jobs there, child care is an issue growing in importance.

“Employees are critical to the mission of the Air Force,” Gessel said. “Child care is a priority for parents who work at the base.”