Childcare center plans crushed for MTD

By Rachel Rubin

The wheels on the bus continue to turn for Champaign’s commuting parents.

The plug was pulled at Tuesday’s city council meeting on a proposal that has been in discussion over the last five years to build a child care facility with a park and ride service. The city of Champaign and the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District proposed construction on the south side of the Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign.

Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Ill., withdrew his support for the $2.3 million of federal funding after being misinformed of the plans, said his press secretary, Phil Bloomer. Johnson’s original plan earmarked money for a center to be built at the University’s Research Park.

“We had to keep applying for funding extensions,” Bloomer said. “The MTD and city of Champaign have failed to keep us informed of what they were doing with the money.”

Bloomer said Johnson found out in a newspaper article that the money was “now being wrapped up with a lot of other tax money to build this huge commercial building in the core of the city. And that is a long way off the original intent of the money.”

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    “Congressman Johnson asked the city of Champaign and MTD to kill the project,” said MTD Director of Market Development Karl Gnadt. “His office wouldn’t typically know the details of the project. We’ve never been asked before to provide that information.”

    MTD’s motivation was to cut the commute time for their users, Gnadt said. Most child care centers are not on transit routes and some people would have up to four or five transfers in a single trip to work. He said having the privately owned child care facility at Illinois Terminal would prevent the hassle.

    “It’s difficult for able-bodied people to get to work and use child care,” Gnadt said. “The location changed a couple of times and that seems to be the focus of his desire to withdraw support. Even though the location that the money he earmarked was for (the Illinois Terminal location.”

    The original earmark funding for the child care center was designated in 2005 for the University’s Research Park. The developer used the facility for his own business after the child care project failed to get off the ground.

    “It was to create an amenity to attract the best and brightest to research park and provide another place for day care for people on campus,” Bloomer said.

    The proposal was taken off the agenda and referred back to staff, said Dist. 4 Councilwoman Marci Dodds.

    “Instead of hashing out something that we didn’t know where it stood, it seemed more reasonable to pull it off the agenda and figure out what’s going on,” Dodds said. “It was too up in the air.”

    The Council has seen this proposal multiple times over this past year, she said.

    “This has been an ongoing issue we all knew about,” Dodds said. “Putting in the MTD parking lot was new.”

    Currently, there is a third funding extension request pending despite Johnson’s lack of support.

    “Congressman Johnson has not closed the door on this,” Bloomer said. ” But he has made it clear to the mayor that he wants to be more involved if they can come up with a justifiable way to pursue this.”

    Without the federal funding, there is no hope of continuing, Gnadt said.

    “We’re not left with any other options by him,” he said. “At this point the proposal will be dropped.”