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UAA issues eviction notice to popular child care center

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published January 30, 2015

Since 1979, the nonprofit Tanaina Child Development Center has provided early childhood care under a roof owned by the University of Alaska Anchorage. But this week, UAA issued Tanaina a notice asking it to leave -- permanently.

Tanaina employees said they did not expect the abrupt eviction letter that terminated the center's agreement with UAA. Bill Spindle, vice chancellor for administrative services at UAA, said that in anticipation of dwindling state funding, the university must use its space to support university programs.

"The fiscal situation, as you know, has become tough very, very fast," Spindle said.

Tanaina now finds itself up against a May 1 move-out date and under the guidance of a real estate agent to find space for 25 employees and about 60 children, said Stefanie O'Brien, Tanaina's assistant executive director. On Thursday, she said her staff was "still reeling" from the news.

Originally, Tanaina -- which primarily serves the university community -- had agreed to temporarily relocate from its home at UAA's Wells Fargo Sports Complex. It would leave for six months starting in May to make way for construction, O'Brien said.

But the letter delivered Tuesday introduced a new plan. Spindle said the construction project would begin on schedule. The $9.2 million price tag includes renovations to the hockey team locker room, ice rink renewal and electrical work. Tanaina's space, however, stands to become something new.

Spindle said Friday that UAA hadn't yet determined what would move into Tanaina's space in the fall, noting that student affairs, student recruiting and health programs, among others, all need more room.

For Tanaina, Spindle called the space "inadequate." It's too small, he said, and the university has long been concerned about liability issues stemming from minors on campus.

"We have never been against them," Spindle said of Tanaina. "We're looking at the space and the needs of our university. We think this is the best move."

About 90 percent of the children at Tanaina belong to UAA faculty, staff and students. Tanaina does not pay rent to UAA.

"In this fiscal climate, it's just not realistic to try to be everything to everyone," said Sarah Henning, public relations and marketing manager at UAA.

However, Scott Hamel, a faculty member in UAA's Department of Civil Engineering and president of Tanaina's board of directors, said the child care center not only eases the lives of UAA parents but also serves as a recruiting tool for the university.

"We get calls from potential faculty candidates asking, 'Do you have a spot?'" he said.

Hamel's 4-year-old daughter is enrolled at Tanaina after having been on a waiting list for nearly two years, he said.

Holly Martinson, a parent and postdoctoral fellow in the WWAMI medical program, said that when she and her family moved back to Anchorage from Colorado, a big benefit of employment at UAA was Tanaina.

"Both my husband and I do cancer research and he also teaches medical school," she said. "Our jobs aren't 9 to 5. We work longer hours, and Tanaina is there for that."

Martinson said she didn't know what was next for her 3-year-old daughter's care. What if Tanaina can't find a space? Should she put her on wait lists at other day cares? But what if Tanaina does find a new home? She doesn't want to lose her spot, she said.

"It's just a horrible situation," she said.