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The Child Development Center on the Hill

Editor, Stephen Kelly

At the Child Development Center for Contra Costa Community College in San Pablo, Calif., special consideration was given to providing an accessible route up the hill to the Center and assuring the building was a seismic-safe structure for the children.

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Contra Costa College is a two-year community college in San Pablo, Calif. San Pablo is in the San Francisco East Bay Area, between the northern end of the Berkeley Hills and San Pablo Bay. The city is basically surrounded by the city of Richmond.

Classes began at the college in 1950. Back then, the campus was just a few wooden buildings, lots of blacktop, no grass and a parking lot with a railroad line bisecting it! Ah, the '50s, before anyone paid any attention to basic safety and health--no seat belts, no bike helmets, no playground safety surfacing, metal play structures with sharp, hard edges, everyone puffing away on cigarettes ("More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette" went one ad) ... and, of course, trains coming right through the campus. Hey, I remember those days and I'm here to tell you I survived to write this!

Security features include open views of all activity areas, gates, fences and direct classroom access to the exterior play area. The fences and gates also separate the different age groups. Flagstone offers a decorative contrast to the concrete.

The idea of offering an on-campus facility for children of attending students in those Spartan but backward days was, well, unimaginable.

Well, that was then. The Child Development Center for Contra Costa Community College in San Pablo, Calif. is a 14,500 sq. ft. space serving 12 infants, 12 toddlers and 72 preschool children. The center replaces an old portable building.

Interactive Resources designed the new center and Richard Splenda & Associates of Berkeley designed the outdoor park-like play and developmentally appropriate educational areas for the infant, toddler and preschool groups.

This side of the preschool play area offers two garden enclosures (the semi-enclosed concrete structures), a water jug filler/shower, lawn area, sand play and swings with a poured-in-place safety surface. Hardscape accents include river rock and cast-in-place imprinted concrete paving. Nature's colors are expressed by Victorian box trees and Mexican primroses.

The Child Development Center was built on an existing parking lot. The center offers a range of support services for students, including tuition reimbursement, job placement assistance, access to child care, transportation, tutors, faculty mentors and on-campus support groups.

Center operations include preschool instruction, evening care and drop-in care.

ADA compliant parking and the safe and easy child drop-off and pick-up area is just below the hill on which the Child Development Center stands.

The square footage of the outdoor areas was specified by the California State Office architect, so as to meet requirements for a child development facility.

"These predetermine requirements were frustrating to me because I thought that the toddler area was too small," explains landscape architect Richard Splenda. "However, the experienced staff provided me with a wealth of good ideas for the design and use of each play. This allowed me to put together all the outdoor areas in fanciful and pleasing design, making my job extremely easy."

Although the area is a fairly narrow and compact space, the landscape architect fit grass areas and sand play along with such traditional elements as ladders, tunnels, slides, ramps and bridges.

The children's facility is carefully designed to meet the physical, ergonomic and emotional needs of the kids, you know, the kind of things everyone ignored in the 1950s! Child sized toilet rooms, interior and exterior play areas, crib and sleep areas, children's storage "cubbies," diaper changing and dressing areas, ash and prep areas; baby bottle and food storage and auxiliary support spaces are provided. The facility also has classrooms and a lab.

Design features include two vegetable gardens and a complete children's kitchen. In the "old" days us kids got a glass bottle of milk and a Graham Cracker for the midmorning break. That was the highlight of the day, really!

The tile-red colored concrete and Mexican primroses are a recurring theme for the Child Development Center.

The children at the Child Development Center ("development" being the key word) learn to prepare snacks on counters at child appropriate heights. The kids have access to appliances, sinks, microwaves, a refrigerator, oven and cook top. It's never too early to learn now to warm-up food in the microwave. But seriously, the kids learn the kinds of food that are good for mind and body and how to prepare such edibles. This is a good development, but you wonder how such teaching will stand up to the incessant commercial badgering by fast foods producers.

The educators teach the children how to grow vegetables, pick them and prepare them in the kitchen! Yes, we must cultivate our gardens and any effort to teach kids whence our food is a noble effort.

Contra Costa College's solar installation in the campus parking lot totals 2,304 photovoltaic panels. Nine canopies provide covered parking for 200 cars. The system produces 500,000 kilowatt hours per year.

Security features include a protective design to keep children safe. There are open views of all activity areas, gates and fences. Safe and easy children drop-off and pick-up areas; direct classroom access to exterior play area; and ADA compliant parking. Fences and gates provide security but also separate the different age groups.

San Pablo's northeast limits are traversed by the Hayward fault, a major offshoot of the San Andreas fault, which lies to the west. Seismic activity has offset the curbs her on Castro Street and the abandoned El Portal School, which is an area students from Contra Costa College can use if they choose to park off campus.
Photo: USGA

Beautiful landscaped grounds and carefully designed play areas enhance the views of San Pablo Bay. A tunnel, basketball court, gently sloping lawn areas, ground surfaces with different textures, outside sinks, and an exterior canopy offers protection from the weather.

Special consideration was given to provide an accessible route for the children to the earthquake safe building located on the hillside. San Pablo's northeast limits are traversed by the Hayward fault, a major offshoot of the San Andreas fault, which lies to the west.

Child Development Center
Contra Costa College - San Pablo, Calif.

Contra Costa College Community District

Landscape Architect
Riahard Splenda & Associates
Richard Splenda, MLA - Calif. license #1135

Irrigation Consultant
Susan Merriman, Landscape Architect

Interactive Resources, Inc.
George Namkung, AIA, Architect

General Contractor (building)

Play Equipment
Landscape Structures

Poured Surfaces
Surface America

Jug Filler, Shower
Most Dependable Fountains, Inc.

Play Equipment
Landscape Structures

Landscape Contractor
Bauman Landscape, Inc. - Hard Surfaces,
Play Equipment, Site Items, Planting,
Irrigation, Maintenance

Site Flora

Victorian box tree

Tulip tree

Cork oak tree

Coast redwood

London plane

Hall's honeysuckle

Mexican primrose

Star jasmine

Burmese honeysuckle

Boston ivy

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December 11, 2019, 1:20 pm PDT

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