Defense Department officials said yesterday that they will open a temporary day-care center at Fort Myer for children who will be displaced when the Pentagon's center closes because of concerns about terrorism.
Parents who attended a meeting yesterday at the Pentagon with Washington Headquarters Services officials said they were assured that each of the 117 children who attend the Pentagon Child Development Center and need care would be accommodated at Fort Myer -- either in temporary, modular quarters built for that purpose or in the post's Military Community Child Development Center, which has limited vacancies.
The interim day-care center would be in place until the opening of an expanded center at Fort Myer for the children of Pentagon and Fort Myer employees. Although officials said the new center could be ready by 2007, Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) said he is working to expedite funds so it can be completed sooner.
Defense Department officials have not set a date for closing the Pentagon day-care center, except to say that it could be in the fall. But parents said yesterday they were told that the interim center at Fort Myer could be ready to receive Pentagon children as soon as Sept. 20. They said Defense officials also mentioned the possibility of providing transportation for Pentagon parents who need to get their children to the Army post.
"We're working with the parents to determine what size the facility will be to support the child-care needs," said Mario Lopez, who is with the Washington Headquarters Services facilities directorate. "There are some parents that have chosen to go elsewhere."
Although parents said the new plan isn't their first choice -- which would be keeping open the Pentagon center -- they said the decision to provide interim care is a positive development.
"It's a major step forward as opposed to hearing, 'We're closing the center -- get your kids out of here in 60 days,' " said Jill Wood, a civilian Pentagon employee whose two young daughters attend day care there. "It's not perfect, but it's a lot better than where we were a week ago."
Since a hijacked jetliner crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, parents have said they have been repeatedly assured that their day-care center was among the safest in the nation. But officials gathered the parents July 7 to explain that they no longer could ensure the children's safety and that they would close the center.
Officials said the decision was based on global terrorism concerns and worries that the potential for a terrorist attack against the Pentagon could rise with the approach of the national elections.
That decision left parents both skeptical and scrambling to find alternative spots for their children after Army officials had said they would be able to accommodate no more than 50 at Fort Myer's existing center.
Some parents have said they believe the driving force behind the closure is a plan to relocate the Pentagon's helicopter pad to the site.
"It's a land-grab issue," Wood said, adding that the fear about security concerns "just doesn't add up. If it's not safe, why not shut it down and move the children right now? My gut tells me the way this was handled, there's something more to it."
Defense Department spokesman Glenn Flood said yesterday that he couldn't address plans for the land. "I don't have specific knowledge that there's a plan to have a helicopter pad there," he said.
Jeffrey Altdorfer, whose wife, Laurie, is a civilian employee at the Pentagon and whose son Jordan, 2, has been enrolled in the Pentagon Child Development Center since December, has been a vocal critic of the closure. Yesterday, he praised the creation of a temporary center but said officials could have handled the closing better.
"The decision [to close] may have been made in the best interest of all concerned, but when you're hit with something of this magnitude, seemingly out of the blue, it makes you ask questions," Altdorfer said. "No one wants to be on the blame line if something would happen in the future. I can't blame them for that."