Play Yards Renovation Project in Motion

K. Patricia Bouweraerts
Child Care Center Image - Children and Mark Fraga

Mark Fraga, P.E., Project Manager, Facilities Operations and Capital Planning, visits with the children of the E.L. Cord Foundation Child Care Center in their new Play Yards.

The E.L. Cord Foundation Child Care Center first opened on Aug. 26, 1992, and the ground-breaking new facility was immediately embraced by parents and children—then fast-forward through many years of Northern Nevada winters, and the outdoor play equipment began to get a little wind-worn.

In early August 2017, the Play Yards Renovation Project was finally complete and in motion, unveiled for Reno-Sparks children, their parents, and staff members of Truckee Meadows Community College. The Child Care Center’s students have now been introduced to their brand new and imaginatively designed active play areas.

Every part of the renovated outdoor learning environment was designed through the eyes of a young child. Diane Nicolet, Director of the E.L. Cord Foundation Child Care Center describes the tricycle pathway as more than just a smooth surface for pedaling.

“On the Trike Track, you have to work hard to get over the bridge—like the Indy 500, the track slants down on the inside at the curve—and then you shoot down the straightaway,” she said.

Lots of Shady Places to Have Fun

Shade structures and trees cover a healthy percentage of the play areas, protecting the children from sunburn and allowing for more year-round outdoor activities. One large sun shade protects a new climbing structure from the hot sun, and other covered areas shade benches for relaxing or telling and hearing stories. There is a mini soccer field for make-believe “playoff action.”

Pour-in-place rubber installations are smooth surfaces leading up to sections of the play yard—such as the sandbox, tire swing, or hanging bar—making it more safe and maneuverable for children with disabilities. The “mud kitchen” is an area of the sandbox where water is available to young “bakers” for making mud pies, or piling sand against a long wall as a stable support for their castles.

“Our signature piece is a Music Garden,” Nicolet said. “It’s shared between preschool, 3–5 years old; and toddlers 18–36 months and infant 6 weeks–18 months.”

In the Music Garden there are six planter boxes for trees and flowers, tube drums that are three-across, a one-yard wide gong, and winged chimes that appear to stretch as wide as an eagle’s wing span.

For toddlers, there is also a climbing structure styled with an “Alice in Wonderland” look, a giant sand box for making mud pies, and the Ric Licata shade structure. This tall lattice has a number of deeply-colored plastic sheets on its roof that tints light on the grass and side of the building.

“It’s the only white shade structure, because we want it to stand in his memory,” she added.

For the outdoor infant section, there is a brand new shed and thick green sod.

“The new shade structure here blocks snow melt from the Center’s roof so that it makes it safe and comfortable for teachers to bring children outside in the fresh air all year long, weather-permitting—although not when it’s freezing cold,” Nicolet said.

From 1992 until 2017

“Early Childhood Education Professor Sue Turbow was integral in the original design of this building,” Nicolet said. “She helped make the building happen in 1992. She did two or three years of research, visiting other sites, and she advocated for early childhood education and a child care center on campus.”

About 2007, updates for the play yards started to become a concern for Early Childhood Education teachers at TMCC, and for Nicolet. Staff members have since worked toward the vision of a remodeled top-notch outdoor learning environment for their young students.

“We’ve been working on this for over 10 years, actively for seven years, pursuing available equipment options, the kinds of trends that are happening in outdoor play areas, and the evolution of play yard safety,” Nicolet said.

Close to four years ago, Nicolet started researching supply and construction vendors and conducting meetings with people who would have a stake in the planning of an outdoor learning environment.

“We did several stakeholder meetings, so children could give input, teachers, parents and TMCC employees,” she said. “We invited Nevada Early Intervention Services and they helped us keep in the forefront design for children with special needs; visually- and hearing-impaired children.”

They invited Washoe County Child Care Licensing to meetings, because the licensing surveyors are most often out in the field, finding what works well, and what doesn’t work, Nicolet added. She researched architects and found an innovative team, studioMLA Architects, of Brookline, Massachusetts.

“Also, a Washoe County official was so impressed with the studioMLA handling of community forums that the County hired them for an innovative project,” Nicolet said. “StudioMLA really listened to our ideas and concerns.”

Funding for the Project

“About a year ago, TMCC grant writers pursued extra funding and were very committed to the project’s completion,” she said. “The E.L. Cord Foundation offered the additional funding—they were very generous. Grant manager Tammy Freeman and TMCC Foundation Executive Director Gretchen Sawyer were wonderful in their efforts writing the grant.”

In addition to grant funding, a large part of the project’s $300K expense was met through careful steps, saving money for the years leading up to construction. Staff members at the Child Care Center thoughtfully evaluated and spread out expenditures.

“There was tremendous time and effort that went into this project—a lot of heart and soul and sacrifice through budgeting, and strategic planning for long-range cost savings,” she said.

Nicolet emphasizes that every bit of effort was well worth completing the project, especially when seeing smiles bubble up on many little trusting faces of the Center’s exuberant students.

“To see children playing, it makes the heart smile,” she said.

For more information about the E.L. Cord Foundation Child Care Center, please contact Diane Nicolet at 775-674-7515.