by Agueda Pacheco Flores
When temperatures started hitting 100 degrees last summer, Lois Martin knew it didn’t matter how many fans she had running — the Community Day Center for Children (CDCC) in the Central District would have to close.
“Our center is located in a brick building built in the early 1900s, there’s no central air system,” said Martin, CDCC’s executive director and second-generation owner.
The center was originally founded by Martin’s mother, Lulu “Mama” Martin, in 1963. Since then the global temperature has warmed by 1 degree Celsius. That single degree has created havoc, manifesting as extreme weather across the world. In Seattle, that looked like temperatures reaching as high as 108 degrees Fahrenheit on June 28, during a heat wave that lasted three weeks.
Washington’s Administrative Code stipulates that indoor temperatures for child care centers cannot exceed 82 degrees Fahrenheit. For CDCC, it meant being unable to care for nearly 40 kids whose parents still had to work those days. Many CDCC parents are frontline workers such as medical professionals, educators, and Metro workers.
“That’s at least 75 parents impacted, and it branches out,” Martin explains. “They had to call in grandparents, aunties, uncles, nannies.”
Martin decided to take things into her own hands. She started a search for funding, and nearly a year later is now able to keep her doors open. But finding the money wasn’t easy. She received help from the Central Area Collaborative (CAC), a nonprofit that helps small businesses in the Central District.
CAC Executive Director Dennis Comer said at first they had sought funding from the City, but for a small business with a big need like the Community Day Center for Children, the six- to eight-month process of going through environmental impact statements and bureaucratic checklists was just too much.
“A small business does not have the capacity or knowledge to attack that, and time was of the essence,” Comer said, adding that their petition for City funds kept getting handed from one department to another. “Once again another bureaucratic roadblock that keeps us from doing what needs to be done.”
Eventually the nonprofit cut the $60,000 check to get the child care center the infrastructure it needed to withstand future heat waves. During the 2021 heat wave, at least 100 people died. Experts and the Washington State Department of Health expect the region to experience longer and hotter summers due to climate change.
“It’s not a problem that’s going away,” Comer said.
The center now has a ductless system that consists of four air-conditioning units, one for each classroom. During this year’s brief heat wave, CDCC was able to keep their doors open and provide a cool place for their students and staff.
Martin says the center was not the only child care provider facing heat obstacles. Leadership across Seattle who are part of the Greater Seattle Child Care Business Association voiced among themselves the need to close their doors because of insufficient protections against extreme heat.
“The bigger picture is that across King County during that time probably thousands of families and children were impacted,” Martin said. “How many places had to close? Directors were reaching out asking ‘What are you doing? How are you handling this?’”
While there are currently grants available from Washington State to help child care centers with staff retention and payroll, as well as increasing their building’s capacity to take on children, Martin laments there isn’t specific funding for facility improvements. “I think that the key is understanding the importance of investment in early care and education.”
Need relief from the upcoming heat wave? Check out our South End cool-off guide to find resources to help keep you stay cool.
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Querétaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
📸 Featured Image: (Photo: Lois Martin)
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