FORT KNOX, Ky. — A sign has appeared on the post that reads: “Coming soon! New Center for Child Development.”
The sign sits on an open grassy knoll along Chaffee Avenue for a reason, hinting at where developers plan to build a new children’s development center. The sign may be a surprising sight to some in Fort Knox, given that the new center was not to be built for years to come.
“It was a major focal point for the garrison,” said Nick Bibelhauser, an engineer at Fort Knox, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District. “This was originally planned as a 2027 project, so it’s been pushed back four years.”
Fort Knox leaders have expressed concerns over several aspects of the current facility in recent years.
Those concerns included parking, the lack of a good alternative for outdoor play in bad weather, and the age and design of the building. One person looking forward to the new facility coming online is Stephanie Parris, director of the Fort Knox CDC.
“It will definitely be an improvement in day-to-day operations at the CDC,” Parris said. “With our current facility, line of sight has a huge impact when dealing with personnel that is ONLY [line of sight supervision] versus [background check] staff evacuated.”
According to the March 2020 US Army Child & Youth Services Installation Parent Handbook for Fort Knox, LOSS employees are those whose background checks are pending approval. Until they are approved by these checks and other requirements, they should “not be left alone with a child/youth”.
The problem comes with how today’s CDC rooms were originally designed. Walls are in the center of each classroom, preventing a clear line of sight. The solution for now was to increase the number of caregivers to ensure positive control of children at all times.
“In our current situation, the need for workers is sometimes double or triple, depending on the season we are in and how many are in our rooms,” says Parris. “In the new facility, the situation will stabilize as the classrooms are open.”
Rayceil Oggs, director of Fort Knox Child & Youth Services, agreed.
“In the new facility, there will be one large open space with no blind spots,” Oggs said. “While in the current facility there are walls separating everything. You actually have a classroom on one side and a classroom on the other.”
Parris gave an example of some of the problems caregivers face in the current facility.
“We’re a development center, so we work with the kids to develop their cognitive skills,” says Parris. “In some layouts, caregivers may have to stop an activity, collect all the children and take them to the changing table to change a diaper because they cannot see or hear the children.
“The new facility allows the children to continue doing whatever they are doing while the caregivers change a diaper.”
Garrison leaders, with the blessing of Child & Youth Services, have designated the old Crittenberger Elementary School as the site for the new facility. Planners from the Public Works Department are in the early stages of finalizing the design, Bibelhauser said; a draft that he expects Fort Knox to launch around the end of the month.
Part of the plan includes a programmed construction fee of about $30 million, he said. “However, that’s something that could change.”
The facility is expected to cover approximately 38,000 square feet and include at least one playground. When completed, it should accommodate 338 children from 0 to 6 years old. Bibelhauser said the contract could be awarded in August 2023.
“The old CDC was kind of screwed up,” Bibelhauser said. “One of the very first projects I did when I started with the Corps of Engineers about 14 years ago was to build what they called the CDC Connector Project — a sort of little walkway connecting the two older buildings.”
As part of a state-of-the-art facility, the new building will incorporate modern energy-saving measures; measures that have made Fort Knox a Department of Defense leader.
“It will be mandatory to [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] Silver-certified building,” says Bibelhauser.
Oggs said the new facility will provide another feature that was missing from the current building.
“At School Age Services, you have a large activity space,” Oggs said. “The new facility will also include a large activity room. We always have a hard time here, especially in winter and on rainy days. Whereas if we had an activity room, we would still have a place for the kids to be active.”
While the new facility is expected to provide more than socialization and safety for the children, and consequently their parents, it will also provide more for the caregivers.
“We maintain the standards we are required to meet, including safety standards, but in a facility that is not designed to meet those standards,” said Parris. “If we can be in a facility designed to meet those standards, that will ease the burden.”