Amid the national childcare shortage, Dominican University’s Rose K. Goedert Center for Early Childhood Education announced it was shutting its doors next summer, leaving close to 100 families scrambling to find childcare in what is already a nearly impossible market.
The announcement of the closing came by email to families Nov. 9 from Dominican University, saying that the center will be closing June 14.
According to Amy Balu, a former Dominican adjunct professor whose two-year-old attends Goedert, the preschool now enrolls 90 students and has about 145 waitlisted.
“It is such a high-quality, accredited institution that I feel it meets the gap in the area for that,” Balu said. “And that gap is going to be felt.”
A 2022 report by the Illinois Child Care for All Coalition, which includes the Service Employees International Union, Healthcare Illinois, Chicago Teachers Union and other organizations found that from 2012 to 2019, state-licensed family child care capacity declined 20%, while the number of child care homes — those exempt from licensing — declined by 65%. Nearly 58% of the state’s population lives in an area where there aren’t enough child care providers nearby. That had made child care more expensive and tougher to find, the report’s authors said.
Opened in 2005, the center had served the River Forest community out of the Priory Campus at the intersection of Division St. and Harlem Avenue, providing early childhood education for children ages two to five and offering a flexible schedule to meet parental needs.
In 2022, Dominican sold the Priory Campus to Fenwick High School, who beat out Oak Park and River Forest High School, among others, for the multi-acre parcel. In reports by Wednesday Journal, the 7.6-acre lot had been appraised at $8 million, although Dominican Vice President of finance and administration Mark Titzer said the sale price would not be revealed for reasons of confidentiality. As part of the negotiations with Fenwick, the high school had agreed to an extended “rent-free” lease, allowing the center to remain at the location for up to five years. However, the private Catholic college prep school has exercised an initial exit clause, which was available after two years of purchase.
Representatives from Fenwick could not be reached for comment.
In an email addressed to a Goedert parent, Titzer said that while part of Dominican’s mission was to make education accessible, their priorities are focused on serving a growing undergraduate population and programs, facilities, and services to support them.
“The Goedert Center is not a service extensively utilized by our students as a childcare option or an active experiential learning opportunity,” Titzer said in the email.
Titzer also said only a few students enrolled their children or dependents at the Center in recent years, and with the discontinuation of the early childhood major, the need was declining.
“While the Center does employ student workers, it has not been a regular student teaching or clinical placement site aligned with the School of Education for many years,” Titzer said.
Parents disagreed. “We felt like we were in good hands,” said Jessica Brown, Goedert parent since 2018. “That the sale wasn’t going to disrupt the school in any way.”
Disrupt, however, it did.
“Fenwick has exercised that clause,” the email sent by Dominican said. “And as a result, the lease will be terminated in 2024 in accordance with the Agreement.”
According to Stephanie Kubas, executive director of marketing and communications at Dominican University, they were alerted in May 2023 that Fenwick intended to use the exit clause. Kubas said the university spent several months exploring the surrounding area — both on and off campus — in hopes of locating another location for the center but, “none were viable or sustainable.”
“We felt really disappointed and super frustrated that the Goedert Center could come to an end after decades of serving the community,” Brown said.
“We are providing notice to families now to allow them time to make alternative care arrangements,” Kubas said. “We remain focused on continuing to support the center until its closure next June.”
Goedert families, however, said they do not believe the University has been transparent and say the news should have been communicated back in May, as many are now left trying to both process the devastating news and find a new preschool at the same time.
“I had to make calls I wasn’t ready to make,” said a tearful Eden Himidian, a parent of two children, who, after spending two years on the waitlist, was ecstatic to enroll her children at Goedert.
Himidian said she was devastated and in denial, and thought something would be able to be done to save the school.
“It never crossed my mind that the support for the center itself was dissolving,” Himidian said. “That the people who make the center possible were giving up on it.”
Himidian was able to secure spots for her children in another preschool, but after hearing she took the last spots while other Goedert parents had to be added to the waitlist, she said her heart broke all over again after she realized the community from Goedert was now having to, in a sense, “compete” with each other for these sacred spots.
For student and single parent Chloe Young, the center has been an instrumental part of her life, helping her to continue her education while providing her daughter with a quality preschool education.
With rising daycare and preschool costs, Goedert allowed her to use the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program without needing to make up the difference, which provided an additional relief in terms of finances.
“It is hard to find childcare but it is even harder using those CCAP government payments because most places only have a limited number of families, they will accept that use them,” Young said.
When she found out the center would be closing, Young said she was devastated but not surprised.
“It was very disappointing, of course, a lot of frustration and anger honestly,” Young said. “There has been a lot going on at the University the last couple years or so after new leadership took over.”
Young, who has served as a graduate assistance for the Center of Culture Liberation, said she also feels betrayed. The search for a new location should have been conducted by the University after the original sale to Fenwick, she said.
Balu said the messaging put out by the University does not represent what was communicated privately in emails to parents who had reached out.
“Where I keep getting stuck with Dominican is that you say you looked to find another building but then your messaging is that you didn’t want to support this partnership anymore,” Balu said. “The two things don’t go together for me.”
Goedert parents have banded together and are trying to find locations or other partnerships so that the center can remain open, Balu said.