With a crowd of doctors and city and state officials, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Cam Patterson announced the groundbreaking of a new child development center across from the Hillary Clinton Children’s Library & Learning Center Wednesday.
“This is a historic moment for our employees and students,” Patterson said. “One of the biggest barriers to the success of working parents is very often access to quality childcare and a safe, affordable and convenient location.”
The build is a $10 million project that’s expected to be completed in spring 2024. The federal New Markets Tax Credit program is funding the center, and the four-acre property was bought from the city for $1. Forty new jobs including teachers, teaching assistants and support staff will be brought to the center, all with competitive salaries and benefits, UAMS provost Stephanie Gardner said.
The development center is expected to have the capacity to serve nearly 200 children, aged from infancy to pre-K, of UAMS employees and students.
Patterson said that this project has been in the works for decades, and now, it will make “all the costs and logistics of juggling work and parenting just a little bit more manageable.” The building will be nearly 20,000 square feet, and the rendering from Fennell Purifoy Architects showed angled roofs, plenty of windows, multi-level access and some fenced in green space. C.R. Crawford Construction is also part of the project team.
The planning process of the development center has taken a village, Patterson said. He thanked Gardner, who was a “champion for this project for many many years,” members of the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees — Chairman C.C. “Cliff” Gibson and Secretary Ted Dickey attended — and legislative leaders, including state Reps. Tippi McCullough and Aaron Pilkington, who were also present.
Gardner detailed what will be included in the build — rooms for infant care, toddlers and preschool, along with indoor and outdoor play areas, she said. Bright Horizons will be contracted to provide a curriculum that includes language, arts, math, science, technology and health and wellness.
Patterson also noted that without the work of Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and collaboration from the city, the project would not be working its way to reality.
“We understand that health care plays a vital role in education and economic development by sustaining our workforce,” Scott said. He gave praise to Patterson for making developments in the targeted community south of Interstate 630, and said that this work shows intentionality.
Little Rock Director Kathy Webb echoed Scott’s emphasis on development in this community. She said that with the new center, she hopes vacancies on 12th Street will be filled and a grocery store can be brought back in the area. Webb is also CEO of the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, and advocates for food security in Little Rock as part of her director role.
“If there’s one thing that we’ve really seen during the last two and a half years — we knew it before, but we now know it more than ever — is the importance of quality childcare for our working families,” Webb said.