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South Side Day Nursery moving to South Jefferson and expanding

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 7, 2011 - Fox Park is gaining a new neighbor, but one whose services are not new to the area. If all goes according to plan, South Side Day Nursery will soon break ground on a new 19,000 square foot home at 2101 South Jefferson, near that avenue's intersection with Russell Boulevard. This will be the third home for the nonprofit in its 125 years of service. Its current site is further south at Iowa and Crittendon.

Expansion plans have been in the works since 2008, however a site was not selected until this past summer. South Side Day Nursery provides childcare and preschool education for 97 children, ages six weeks to 5 years. With the new site, capacity will expand to 140 children, which would be enough to handle the waiting list. The nursery plans to hire four to five full time teachers, in addition to the 16 full time and five part time it now employs, to fill 10 new classrooms.

Fox Park, which learned of the plan during a neighborhood meeting last winter, has welcomed the new construction. Ian Simmons, president of Fox Park Neighborhood Association, says he anticipates many gains from the move, the greatest of which could be South Side Day Nursery providing stability just by its presence. Nursery executive director Anne Kessen Lowell echos those sentiments with her eagerness for the "potential to revitalize the [Jefferson] intersection while providing a high quality place for children to grow."

The area around South Jefferson between I-44 and Gravois has seen three new businesses open in the past year: Keypers (a piano bar at Shenandoah and Jefferson), The Jefferson Warehouse (a music venue at Victor and Jefferson) and Shameless Grounds (a coffee house at Ohio and Sidney).

The site (2101-19 S. Jefferson) contains a former Taco Bell-now-ATM, operated by American Eagle Credit Union, plus two vacant store fronts and an unoccupied six-family flat acquired from DeSales Community Housing Corporation.

According to South Side Day Nursery's plans, the store fronts and residence would be demolished and work begun before dealing with the American Eagle part of the parcel. Once the move is finished, the current offices at 2930 Iowa would be sold.

To get a conditional use permit, the new building had to meet Fox Park's historical building standards, which require a brick facade and alignment similar to buildings along the block. Demolition is expected to start fairly soon, after a plan for asbestos abatement is approved.

Started in 1886 by 15 Unitarian women, the Nursery's mission was to provide children with education and a hygienic place to stay while their parents worked. The first home was at 10th and Sidney, where they remained until 1954. The move to Iowa Avenue was caused by construction of Interstate 55.

Some of the issues that prompted creation of the day nursery have changed in the intervening years. In the early 1900s, the primary concern was for cleanliness and a healthy environment. Now the focus is more on education and family care. In either case, the well-being of the children is at the heart of the services. Families aided by South Side today are still in the working poor segment that prompted the creation of the Day Nursery. Without the nursery, these parents would not be able to work, attend schooling of their own, or otherwise provide for the success of their families.

According to Lowell, "We really provide an excellent education for the most disadvantaged children in the city - and prepare them for success in kindergarten and beyond. We think we are building the finest school possible for them, something they need and truly deserve."

This spring, the Nursery will be starting a capital giving campaign that will bring in individual donations and grants. But the work is "full steam ahead," Lowell said.

Drew Canning was a summer intern with the Beacon. 

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