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Clinton Early Learning Center to relocate off the Hill

By Sarah Destin '14

October 31, 2013

Nothing can make you smile like a parade of three-year-olds meandering down Martin’s Way, holding hands with their buddy and waving to passing students. However, toddlers might soon be in short supply on campus, as the College has told the Clinton Early Learning Center (CELC) that it plans to convert the center’s space on the first floor of Root Residence Hall into additional housing.

The Clinton Early Learning Center was founded in 1973 in Major Residence Hall, and moved to its current location on the first floor of Root Residence Hall in 1986. While the majority of Hamilton students do not directly interact with the Clinton Early Learning Center, the CELC provides numerous students with employment opportunities working with children and volunteer opportunities for psychology students.

In the spring of 2013, the College informed the Clinton Early Learning Center that it required the CELC’s space for additional dorm rooms and that the space would need to be vacant by May of 2015.

“The College notified us of their intention to convert the center space at Root Residence Hall back to dorm space in the Spring of 2013,” Executive Director of the Clinton Early Learning Center. Amy Burns-Franz told The Spectator. “At that point, conversations began regarding the best place for the center, both on and off campus. The idea of the Clinton Elementary School came about when it was learned the Upstate Cerebral Palsy Preschool Program would be vacating their rented space at Clinton Central School,” said Amy Burns-Franz, Executive Director of the Clinton Early Learning Center.

Burns-Franz also explained that there are some concerns about the new location, particularly with regard to the outdoor space.

While she acknowledges that the building was previously licensed by the the New York State Office of Children and Family Services, “the outdoor space has been a source of contention in that there is no enclosed space designed specifically to children 18 months to 4 years old,” said Burns-Frans.

“Of course given the opportunity to stay on campus, I would choose to stay,” said Burns-Franz.

Sue Winkler, a teacher at the Clinton Early Learning Center for the last 26 years, shared Burns-Franz’s concern about the outdoor space.

“I teach in the toddler classroom and I think the children should be in an environment that is less school-like than the elementary school. The play yards at CELC are much more inviting and nature oriented than the school. I also enjoy walking the children through the glen to truly explore nature and that is not possible at the school. On days that the current play yards are too wet to use, we walk the campus. We also frequently explore the buildings and we interact with numerous students, faculty and staff. I would much rather stay on campus,” said Winkler.

Winkler added that there has been quite a bit of opposition to the move amongst students, faculty, staff and CELC families.

One of these students is Sam Otis ’14, a volunteer at the center, who started a petition on change.org to keep the CELC on campus. As of Oct. 30, the petition has 176 signatures.

“I feel that the CELC is an integral part of the Hamilton community, and I wanted to do anything I could to help keep it on our campus.” Otis said. “Within the first six hours of being posted, the petition had already reached 100 signatures. The best part about starting this petition has been reading students’ explanations as to how the center has affected them. Additionally, it’s been really great to receive such supportive emails from parents of children at the CELC who also feel strongly about this cause and are excited that some action is being taken.”

One parent who feels strongly about the CELC’s decision to move off campus is Anthony Juliano, master maintenance mechanic at Physical Plant. Juliano’s daughter Alexa began attending the center last May.

“One of the major selling points of my position at Hamilton was that there was an on-site day care center,” he shared. ”That aspect of the position played a major role in my choice to start a career at the College. In addition to that, the facility and environment that our daughter has the opportunity to learn and grow in each day is incomparable to anywhere else. It is also extremely advantageous and comforting that I work on the same campus every day and can easily access the facility if need be. This has put both my wife and I at ease each day we send her, as we know sending a child to a care center can be a very difficult and emotional time in a parent’s life.”

Even if the CELC does relocate downtown, it will retain its affiliation with Hamilton. The CELC plans to continue offering Hamilton employees priority for child enrollment and will maintain positions for Hamilton students as volunteers and workers.

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