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University City Children's Center
Early Childhood Education Center
University City, MO

Location: 6646 Vernon Avenue
Completion: 2004
Area: 23,000 sq.ft.
Cost: $2.3 million
Team Four Architects | 14 North Newstead Avenue, St. Louis, Missouri, 63108 | phone 314.533.2200 fax 314.533.2203
Objective
The University City Children's Center has a long and distinguished history of providing high quality child care and education to the University City area. The Center's sliding scale for tuition is made possible by the generosity of its supporters and the United Way. The Center recently became associated with Washington University as the University's designated child care provider for the Hilltop Campus.

Expansion and Upgrading
The need to expand and the poor condition of the Center's previous facility, with Washington University's assistance, lead to the purchase of an industrial building on Vernon Avenue north of the Loop in University City. The Center converted this building into a state of the art child care center.

The building, which contains 36,000 square feet of space, houses the 23,000 square foot Center for 132 children. The remainder of the space is devoted to Washington University. In the future, this space will be available to the Center for expansion to over 200 children.

The Center's Program
The Center created eight classrooms in this building. Two house eight infants and toddlers each; an age group that the Center did not previously serve. One houses a group of 16 two year olds and the other five house groups of 20 3-5 year old children. The classrooms are paired for efficiency. Shared areas include restrooms for the children and workrooms for the teachers. Dining for 3-5 year olds is in a special area across from the classrooms. A kitchen was constructed for the center, although in the first phase it is used primarily for catering. This avoided the substantial expenditure for kitchen equipment until the time when the Center's enrollment is larger and able to justify full food preparation on site.

Activity Spaces
A large physical education and play area is located across the main gallery from the classrooms. This space and the dining area are somewhat open to the gallery, adding to the feeling of spaciousness of the new Center. The physical education area is divisible into smaller spaces for special activities.

The Center contains an adult classroom suitable for training volunteers and for community functions. The physical education area is useable by the Center and by the community for larger events.

Design
The steel-framed building was constructed in the 1960's. The building is fully covered by a fire suppression system. For an industrial building, it has relatively low floor to structure height. This presented some challenges for refitting and upgrading the heating and air conditioning systems, but has not been a negative factor.

Because of the building's original design for industrial use, windows needed to be added to the exterior. Since the width of the building is more than needed for a child care center, a broad activity gallery runs down the center. On one side are displays of art, both student and from others. On the other side, adjacent to the classrooms, there are several discovery stations. These stations include display, seating and storage set-off from the main gallery by low walls.

The front of the building was modified to provide an image appropriate to the University City Children's Center. An existing entry on the east side of the building was modified to be the main pick-up and drop-off point as well as the public entry.

Outdoor Play and Learning Areas
An extensive outdoor play area is being developed on the west side of the building. It is divided into areas suitable to several age groups. A trellis will cover the area along the building. Some of the play area will be paved, but a substantial amount will be planted with shade trees and will provide a natural learning environment for the children.