WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Is a childcare facility on credit union grounds just the ticket to boosting employee morale while promoting a family friendly environment? For Herndon, Virginia -based Northwest Federal Credit Union incorporating a freestanding childcare facility into its new corporate headquarters plan has had an unforeseen benefit of building its reputation in the community. Since summer 2000 the single-story, 7,800 square-foot daycare center designed by HBE Financial Facilities has become a valued part of the community. According to NWFCU Administrative Services Manager George Shoemaker the timing was right given the competitive market, and the on campus daycare facility has also helped attract and retain quality employees. "We did it for a number of reasons not only as a benefit for employees but also as an amenity for our tenants," said Shoemaker. "We wanted it close to the office so it would be a short commute for employees while giving them the peace of mind knowing that their child is nearby in case of emergency or they get sick. It just gives parents a good feeling to know they can just walk right over and have lunch with their child." Shoemaker says the $968 million credit union simply owns the building, which is leased by Nobel Learning Communities, Inc., one of the largest non-sectarian operators of private schools. "We knew we didn't want to run the childcare facility for security reasons so we started an extensive interview process with several prospective childcare providers to find a reputable one with good programs and good service that was willing to offer discounted rates," said Shoemaker. "I can't stress enough how important it is to select a childcare provider that will be around for a long period of time that will meet both the kids and the parents needs. Although we are just the landlord the quality of service provided by Nobel reflects on us." According to Shoemaker, once the tenants and employees needs were met, opening it up to members, which include employees and family members of the Central Intelligence Agency and other federal government agencies, and the community at large helped make the center a success. "In this area it is not only very difficult to find openings at daycare centers but it is rather expensive as well," said Shoemaker. "It has definitely been a win-win situation for everyone involved." Before credit unions rush into making their own daycare center plans, Seattle-based design/build firm Emick, Howard and Seibert Principal Paul Seibert advises caution. "The big issue with an onsite daycare center is how the credit union will handle the liability," said Seibert. "Also it is going to be hard considering how litigious our society is. The concern for many credit unions is how they are to protect themselves. Some say although it may be a nice option for employees, as shepherds of members' money do they want to expose themselves to that and is it the right thing to do as a credit union." According to Seibert the number of credit union employees and the size and scale of the credit union is also a factor in weighing the pros and cons of having an onsite childcare facility. "Credit unions have to think about how they will keep the childcare facility operational and it can be challenging trying to determine how much of the staff will use or need such a facility over a period of years. In general credit unions opt for more creative solutions such as allowing infants in the office for the first eight months," said Seibert. "On the one hand having a baby in the office could make it difficult and there may be some compromises but the feeling it generates inside is so good that it counters any difficulty and may be well worth it." Seibert says another option some credit unions may consider is to help fund a daycare center in area that is not under the umbrella of the credit union or its CUSO thereby limiting liability. [email protected]

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