Children's Center to close Bluffton site, consolidate at Hilton Head location

sbowman@islandpacket.comSeptember 2, 2013 

The Hilton Head Island Children's Center building is photographed on Monday.

JAY KARR — Staff photo Buy Photo

The Children's Center has long given children ages 6 weeks to 6 years old a place to play and learn while giving their parents affordable care and peace of mind.

But that is about to change in Bluffton.

The Children's Center is closing its Bluffton location and consolidating its early childhood program at its Hilton Head Island center, the nonprofit announced last week. The consolidation should only be temporary as the center looks for a new home in Bluffton, said Andrea Siebold, the center's board chairwoman.

"It's a huge loss, not having the Children's Center in Bluffton, because parents need a place where their children can be safe, secure and prepared for school," Siebold said.

The Bluffton center, which serves about 85 children, will remain open until Sept. 13, Siebold said. After that, care for the Bluffton families will transfer to the Hilton Head center near Jarvis Creek Park.

The island facility was built three years ago and is big enough to accommodate the nearly 300 kids enrolled in the center's programs, Siebold said.

The decision to close the Bluffton site, at 20 Bridge St., was unavoidable because of high maintenance costs, she said. The center has put more than $100,000 into the building over the last 18 months.

"We just couldn't do it anymore," Siebold said of maintaining the building it has used for about 12 years. "It was a very hard decision, but it was jeopardizing the whole operation by continuing to put money in there."

Siebold said the center understands the inconvenience for parents, but it is considering busing to help with transportation. She said many of the families can't afford other care options because they earn only minimum wage.

The Children's Center offers a sliding scale of payments, and parents pay what they can afford. Siebold said 92 percent of the families require tuition assistance.

The center also is planning on a long-term solution of building a new facility in Bluffton. The nonprofit is working with the town to find a location and has partnered with the Rotary Club of Bluffton to help raise money.

The center's board also received a grant from the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry it will use to work with the Charleston-based Winkler Group to help expand the center's profile and donor base.

Siebold said the capital campaign should begin in February. The center is hoping to raise the several million dollars needed to construct and maintain the new building within nine months, she said.

"We're not leaving Bluffton. Our board is fully committed to the community for having a children's center there because the need is so great," Siebold said. "But the biggest thing we need is the people of Bluffton to support the families and children of Bluffton."

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

Related content:

Bluffton Children's Center explores expansion options, April 27, 2011

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