Since 1984, Barrett has occupied an historic house on Ridge Street.
No more naps at Barrett, starting August 16.
The announced closure of the nearly 80-year-old Barrett Early Learning Center on Ridge Street has sent waves of dismay through the community.
"This was a good school with loving teachers," says Kim Lauter, a Ridge Street resident who sent all three of her children to Barrett and describes the school's planned August 16 closure as "heartbreaking."
In particular, she notes the longevity of the staff, all of whom, she says, have been there at least 10 years. "We obviously feel extremely comfortable with all the teachers," says Lauter. "They've been incredibly open talking about what's going on with our kids."
First opened in downtown Charlottesville in 1935 as the Janie Porter Barrett Day Nursery, the daycare moved to the Ridge Street location and became the Barrett Daycare Center in 1984, where it has continued to serve a diverse population of Charlottesville pre-schoolers, most of them from underprivileged families.
"Last time I was there, it showed a very diversified group," says lifelong Charlottesville resident and civil rights activist Eugene Williams, who praises the center as a place where children learn racial tolerance that they will carry with them for life. "To me, it's a shame at this stage for it to close up," he says.
While finances were always tight at the nonprofit, which relies heavily on reimbursement from the Department of Social Services, the Center was stable financially, its board president says, until September 2011 when the DSS implemented a change in the process by which daycare centers receive payment for low-income children.
"Frankly, I thought we were humming along pretty well," says Barrett board president Carlos Armengol, a local pediatrician who joined the board 13 years ago. He says the board and its current director, Shannon Banks, worked hard to erase debt accumulated by previous directors during the 1990s, and were proud of their accomplishments that included improvements to the building and the playground.
"We even had a rainy day fund," says Armengol, who notes that watching the funds slip away over the past two years has been an exercise in frustration.
While the previous system allowed daycare centers to fill out attendance forms and submit to the local social services department— a process that Armengol says resulted in payment within two days— the new system requires parents to swipe a card at pick-up and drop-off, a system he and others say is rife with problems, particularly because families are issued only one card.
"One parent picks up, another drops off— the center doesn't get reimbursed unless they're swiped both in and out," says Armengol. Missed swipes— a frequent occurrence, he says, means more paperwork for the center, and because the payments are now processed at the state's Department of Social Services in Richmond, it was suddenly taking weeks or longer for the center to get paid.
Barrett isn't the only daycare center suffering under the new system.
"I almost need a bookkeeper to keep up with it," says Janet Jackson, director of Hilltop Daycare Center on Long Street, another child care center that serves a diverse population, many of whom are lower income. Parents forgetting their cards— or forgetting to swipe them— translates to extra paperwork for Jackson.
"If you have three or four, that's time consuming, and it's time you're not spending with the children," she notes. "It's not a friendly situation."
While Armengol says Barrett's board won't change its mind about closing, he remains hopeful that the building— which is owned by the United Way— will remain a childcare center.
"I have been saying all along to anyone that will listen that our plan to close the center and some other group's plans to continue the center are not mutually exclusive," he says, noting that since the news of the closure first broke, he's been approached by a number of individuals and entities interested in carrying on the Barrett tradition.
"If a group can come forward with a plan, then by all means it can go on," he says. "I'd be tickled, and more than willing to help with the transition. But it's going to take a lot of coordination."