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Parents in scramble after Seattle Academy announces plans to shutter Mother’s Place daycare

A stressful weekend has yielded a reported extension but parents at Capitol Hill daycare Mother’s Place have been in a scramble after 12th Ave property owner Seattle Academy’s sudden decision to close the facility.

In a letter to Mother’s Place families sent Thursday, the academy’s head of school Rob Phillips informed parents that the academy was preparing to shutter the daycare facility it has owned since buying the property and business in 2011.

“This decision was made by reviewing Seattle Academy’s mission, the desire to bring Seattle Academy programmatic elements together on one block, impact to our communities, responsibilities of day care ownership and our continued need to house Seattle Academy’s expanded programs,” Phillips wrote.

The letter said the academy would cease operations at the daycare at the end of June, a timeline families told CHS was too abrupt to allow them the time necessary to find a replacement source of care for their children and a schedule, many parents said, was unfair to the staff, some of whom have been part of Mother’s Place for more than 20 years.

According to a family member familiar with the discussions, the Seattle Academy agreed to a over the weekend to a one-year extension and plans to continue operating Mother’s Place until June 2020.

The academy acquired the Mother’s Place property and 1930-built daycare building in 2011 for $3 million and has operated the child care facility under the Cardinal Child Care, LLC since the acquisition.

The Seattle Academy has continued to be part of an ongoing wave of growth for Capitol Hill’s private schools. This year, it debuted its new $48 million “vertically-oriented middle school.” The five-story, 87,500-square-foot Cardinal Union building includes larger classrooms, a new gym, and Capitol Hill’s second rooftop playground/play field above, plus underground parking below. But even with the new building and the transition from space leased from Temple De Hirsch Sinai, the academy has further plans for branching out on 12th Ave where it will create a new classroom building by converting a 24,000 square-foot warehouse that neighbors the school. An academy representative tells CHS the Mother’s Place building is planned to be used as an “operations” facility.

Options for Capitol Hill parents and Central Seattle families with parents working downtown who have favored the 12th Ave center are relatively few but there are a couple choices. National chain Bright Horizons debuted its $1.7 million daycare center on the backside of Pike/Pine in 2015. This year, a new International Montessori Academy debuted on E Olive Way. And a daycare is planned to be one of the tenants when the Capitol Hill Station developments open along Broadway in coming years. Higher income parents can also choose in-home options and other private providers.

Options are also increasing for lower income parents in Central Seattle. In 2014, Seattle voters approved a tax increase to create a four-year pilot program to provide tuition-free pre-K for a quarter of Seattle’s three and four-year-olds and make subsidies available for the rest. There are roughly 12,300 preschool-aged kids in Seattle — a city analysis showed that between a quarter and a third are not enrolled in any type of formal preschool program and a “gap analysis” study released by the city showed poor children and children of color are vastly underserved. About 1,500 students were served by the current pilot program. In 2018, voters approved a new Seattle school levy that included a planned $341 million to expand the city’s preschool program to serve another 1,000 students.

For the Mother’s Place staff and the more than 70 families enrolled at the facility, however, the idea of moving on is difficult. “For 37 years, it’s been in the same location. The great majority of staff has been here 15-plus years. It’s not a job — it’s not just any school,” one longtime employee who cannot be identified because she was not authorized to speak with media told CHS.

The discussions have begun about a possible new start at a new location — an effort the group estimates will take at least 18 months to sort out. Parents are “still in a tight timeframe to pull something off to save” Mother’s Place, a parent tells us, “but we have a group of parents that are committed to figuring out some solution.”

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18 thoughts on “Parents in scramble after Seattle Academy announces plans to shutter Mother’s Place daycare

  1. It really is not easy at all to find new childcare. Waitlists are incredibly long, and it’s all so much harder if you’re looking on behalf of more than one child. Further, Mother’s Place is not just fungible with any other care center. The social and emotional learning offered there is so special.
    Even just on paper it is unparalleled. Nowhere else is open until 7 pm (in fact, very few are even open until 5 pm). And I don’t know of any other daycares or preschools that provide breakfast, lunch, diapers, wipes, art, science, baths for infants, and this level of outside time.
    Unfortunately Seattle Academy has declined so far to meet with any Mother’s Place parents. We are seeking a meeting with a steering group of the parents and the SAAS administration as soon as possible.

    • I used to be one of the closing teachers and I can tell you you’re not the only parent who values the late pick-up option!

      I hope your meetings go well. This resource mustn’t be wasted like this. I don’t see why they couldn’t, as an alternative, make spots available first to parents and teachers at SAAS — I’m sure tons would appreciate the option.

  2. I have to agree with Jessica. I work in healthcare and the hours of other schools would not work with my job. It’s hard to appreciate if you don’t have children, but having dependable, enriching, loving care for your child is paramount. I feel at ease when I am at work all day knowing that she will be cared for. This affects our entire community (there is plenty of research on the importance early childhood education). The article mentions Bright Horizons which is incredibly expensive and also carries a very long waitlist. The capital hill station daycare option is not in existence … so not a feasible option at this time. And in-home options are expensive and still lack the social benefit of schooling. It is also incredibly difficult to find good quality care. We interviewed a dozen nannies while we were on numerous waitlists for daycare. This decision is awful and SAAS needs to meet with a committee to discuss options with the parents and staff, rather than just issuing a decree from on high.

  3. Thank you for shedding light on this very serious issue. It cannot be stated enough that Mother’s Place is a special community with an outstanding reputation of consistently serving working families for decades. It is an integral part of the community and that has been fueled in large part by the dedication of its teachers with a median tenure of 13 years. Mother’s Place should be permitted to continue to thrive and serve as an option for more generations to come. We want to partner with SAAS administration to discuss solutions.

  4. At what point does SAAS have any obligation to the community?

    It seems like they are raising tons of money to greatly expand their school serving high income families and this feels like a tone deaf decision. I know they are private and obviously have major demand for their school, but it’s hard to watch them grow so exponentially and not think about the growing disparities in our city. Could they sell it to someone who would maintain it as a childcare?

    • I’m just confused as to why they are doing daycare to begin with. All the students are teenagers. I presume they want to use the land for something to do with higher education ?

      • Fair question. SAAS bought both the real estate and the daycare business in 2011 as part of their consolidation of all the real estate on the block. Basically, SAAS did not want someone else coming in and buying the properties and redeveloping around them. The daycare was fully capable of running on its own as it always had, just under SAAS ownership. And over the years SAAS has indicated it was consistent with their mission and told the Mother’s Place community they had no intention of shutting down the daycare anytime soon. The announcement then to shut it down with about 6 mos. notice was pretty shocking to Mother’s Place

  5. Gross.

    We couldn’t get in, but Mother’s Place is a highly regarded and (relatively) inexpensive option. Displacing them to expand a schmancy private school is tone-deaf at best. Bright Horizons is the opposite – costs a fortune, little of that money passes down to the staff, as a result – high turnover and uneven quality of care.

    And sure, yeah, rich people have a lot of other options. This is always the case.

    Maybe they can move to the Capitol Hill station location.

    • Oh my goodness. Child care at a transportation hub! So overdue and great to place in the mix. Based on some planning meetings I attended, I think those Station spots are all spoken for, but perhaps in the 5 block radius around the light rail station? Another 1000 spots for $341 million for the Seattle preschool initiative is a costly drop in the bucket. Are there public policy initiatives to provide tax credits to non-profit child care centers in the urban core who pay living ages and provided great care? If not, maybe there should be. Coming up on the 9th, another annniversary of President Nixon’s veto of a bipartisan,
      comprehensive child care bill in 1971.

  6. This is a hard situation for everyone, even SAAS, I imagine. To hear that the “responsibilities of daycare ownership” are amongst their reasons for ceasing to operate the childcare is understandable–it is a lot of work, licensing requirements abound, and at the end of the day, a field that is not for the feint of heart. This is a clear example of a business model impacting a school with a negative outcome for some. You see the same thing when charter schools, privately managed but funded with public money, close overnight, leaving families stranded.

    The article states that in 2018 “…voters approved a new Seattle school levy…” That is not true. The recent $634 million dollar levy (that the League of Women Voters encouraged a ‘no’ vote for) was a City levy. The Seattle School District’s levy renewals will be on the February 2019 ballot. The city’s preschool program has not generated new seats as much as it has taken over Head Start seats that currently existed. The author paints a rosy picture of the levy and preschool program that needs closer examination.

    Sadly, there are few options available to families in the Capitol Hill and Central District areas who need high-quality, year-round, all-day care (which the city’s program doesn’t provide, btw) for their young children. Hopefully some long-term solutions will emerge for the Mother’s Place families, and I hope that the search for a new space bears fruit.

    • It’s interesting to read your comment questioning the progress of the City’s preschool/daycare program. Taxpayers approved a large levy in 2014, and an even larger one ($341 million) last month for this program. We damn well better get a return on OUR money (property taxes)!

  7. I know it’s extremely difficult to find affordable, quality daycare. But this is not a public entity. They are a business. They own the facility. They are giving people an 18-month notice. Why would they need permission to use their property as they wish, as long as it is following laws and codes? I hope we aren’t entering a world where people can stop legal property owners from exercising their rights—for the only reason that it inconveniences them?

    • There’s a difference between tacky and illegal. There’s a difference between people judging a choice and not being legally allowed to make a choice.

      Buying important community institutions, tearing them down, and redeveloping them into something exclusive for rich people is clearly allowed. We see that every day. Doesn’t mean I have to like it!

      • Yes, SAAS is a private school, but it is hardly exclusive. Many students receive financial aid to attend and the school commits tremendous resources to growing this program.

        They might have been tone deaf in terms of the amount of notice given, but don’t paint them as a 100% negative influence on the neighborhood.

  8. This is really unfortunate. We looked at Mother’s Place and were on the waitlist. It was a great option after being at Bright Horizons, which was painfully expensive. We were also on the waitlist at an in-home daycare called Precious Gifts Seven, which is where we ended up sending our daughter. As a mom and an elementary school teacher I couldn’t be happier with where we ended up. Our 3 month old will be going soon as well.
    I imagine it will be a challenge for local daycares to absorb the many kids who currently attend Mother’s Place, but there happen to be a couple of 2y.o.+ spots available at Precious Gifts Seven. They are a state licensed daycare, participate in Early Achievers, and use the Funshine Express curriculum. There are 3 full time teachers and another teacher who works part time. My daughter loves all 4 teachers, and they all take such good care of her. Knowing that I am leaving my daughter at such a warm, nurturing, and safe space makes being away from her for the day much easier.
    There are so many great things to say about Precious Gifts Seven, but the fact that my daughter loves it there is all that needs to be said.

  9. The shift here is from an organization that worked with the community to one that is now working for its own self-preservation. They have become like any other for-profit organization.

    Yes, Seattle Academy owns the site and bought the business– “fair and square.” They “deserve” to do what they want to do with the site. This is how business works, how property management works; this is, after all, how Seattle works. Those who get the land get the land. Community is not relevant. If a “new” approach is coming in, get ready for change. Cope.

    What has changed is the tone from the Seattle Academy’s representatives over the years about community engagement and involvement– to what is clear now: Seattle Academy will do what “we want and need to do” with a property. It matches what other private schools have done in their respective neighborhoods, such as Berstchi and Northwest. “We grow, you adapt.” The schools have bought and own their respective properties. They have a right to develop as they wish. There is no consideration about community fabric.

    This pattern models the corporate plans like Amazon and other corporations we expect to do better. Who owns the property (and is able to buy it and manage it) can do what they want. Tough luck. Have fun with your neighborhood image and planning. “We own the site.” Cope.

    I’m knocked off kilter by this one. Perhaps it is the new head. I truly perceived Seattle Academy as a community minded school. The former head was at a community meeting I attended and had some practical, direct perspectives about how the school would approach its properties and expansion. It sounded reasonable and polite. He did not promise anything, but he sounded human, not political.

    At this point, from a long-time neighborhood perspective, Seattle Academy is behaving the same as Seattle University. “We will do what we need to do for our organization because we own the lot.” This sounds familiar. I should not be surprised. But I am. There’s no other way to put it.

  10. I think this article misses a bigger piece of this story. SAAS has systematically eliminated all diverse uses from this entire city block over the last few years. There was affordable rental property on the corner of Spring and 13th, then the Chatterbox Cafe, a moderately priced, family owned business, transitional housing that faced Union, and now Mother’s Place, a highly needed childcare facility. This is about SAAS securing their real estate assets, causing displacement, furthering gentrification, and watering down diversity of uses in a neighborhood zoned to encourage a pedestrian responsive environment instead of the privatized block it’s become.

    As several others have also stated, childcare is still incredibly difficult to secure. King 5 and the Kitsap Sun, just did a story on this in August. Although there may be few things being done as an attempt to alleviate this problem, King County has been noted as having some of the highest childcare costs in the country. Another daycare in this area, the Community Day Child Center, will also be closing it’s doors, not making the transition easier.

    Although the families here will be able to find other solutions, especially with the time extension, this impacts childcare through out the city as prices rise with demand and people who can’t secure affordable spots have to move further out of the city to afford care that is home or work adjacent.

  11. Horrible news. I went to Mother’s Place as a child and a long time later worked there as a teacher for several years. It’s an amazing place and very important resource for the community, not one that will be easily replaced and apparently SAAS isn’t going to try. It doesn’t even take up that much space — and surely the teachers and parents of SAAS could use the daycare rather than throw it away. Very bad news for the neighborhood.