Renee Franklin was gushing over the new day-care center that opened at the Social Security Administration's Metro West building yesterday -- the pretty pastel colors, the plentiful play equipment and books, the attentive staff.
But there was a problem. Corey, her son, refused to get off the jungle gym and come home with her.
"He just loves it here, and I love it, too," said the 21-year Social Security clerk, who used to leave Corey, almost 3, with his grandmother while she worked. "It's perfect for us."
Seventeen children, from infants to 5-year-olds, were enrolled for the first day yesterday. With 4,000 employees at the downtown Metro West complex, three-quarters of them women, Executive Director Paula Ciferni expects the center, designed for 93 children, to fill up by the fall.
"That's typical of day-care centers," said Mrs. Ciferni, who has a staff of nine. "Parents want to wait and see how it's working."
Employer-sponsored day-care centers that have sprung up in the Baltimore area in recent years have found difficulty in filling planned spaces only with children of their employees. The Fallon Federal Center day-care program, operated by the YWCA, is no longer restricted to federal workers. AAI Corp. in Cockeysville and NYMA Inc. in Greenbelt are two companies whose on-site day-care centers are now open to other employers.
More than 1,000 employees had asked for a tour of the Metro West center and connecting outdoor playground, Mrs. Ciferni said, and about 300 employees had signified interest through an earlier survey.
A second day-care center, designed for 108 children, is scheduled to open in September to serve the 10,000 Social Security workers at the Woodlawn complex, making the government agency the largest provider of employee child care in this area.
Employees pay from $75 to $100 per child for all-day care with hot meals. While the agency spent over $1 million to remodel the former records section and buy equipment, the parents' weekly fees are expected to meet operating expenses.
The Employee Activities Association at Social Security, a non-governmental group, is responsible for running the centers, along with a parents' advisory board. The association is conducting fund-raisers to meet start-up costs and to provide tuition assistance for parents with limited resources.
The fees are reasonable compared with other centers because of the employer's extensive support, according to the association's president, Mike Reynolds. But with 60 percent of the Metro West work force earning less than $20,000 a year, many parents will need financial aid, he said.
Chris Vaughan, who enrolled two young daughters at the center, said the benefits of the center for his children would be worth the cost.
"This is a wonderful place for them to play and learn and be with other kids," said the third-year employee. They will also be able to ride with him to and from work each day, instead of spending 11 hours in a Reisterstown day-care home.