Old clubhouse being transformed into childcare center

Old clubhouse being transformed into childcare center by David Lias A place where Sen. Tim Johnson admits he used to cool off by enjoying a cold beer after a hot day on the golf course will soon be headquarters for the 100 children enrolled in the Mathilda Geppert Childcare Center of The University of South Dakota.

The center will move from its present location � an older two-story house located across from the campus on Clark Street � to its new home, the former clubhouse of the Vermillion golf course, located north of the DakotaDome on Highway 50.

A combination of federal dollars mixed with two substantial donations of funds from private sources are making the positive changes in USD's childcare facilities possible.

Rapid City businessman John Vucurevich recently gave $300,000 to renovate the old clubhouse into a new childcare center.

The new facility will be named after Vucurevich and his wife, Connie.

Financial help is also coming from two USD alumni.

A $50,000 gift from Bill and Bob Matousek will fund a new full day pre-school program at the Vucurevich Children's Center.

Bob Matousek should be quite familiar with the current Mathilda Geppert Childcare Center located on Clark Street. Years ago, his fraternity was located in the old two story house that is home to the center.

The gift from the Matouseks, who are both originally from Winner, was established through the USD Foundation.

Bill Matousek still lives in Winner, and Bob Matousek is living in Tiburon, CA.

The new program will be located at the Vucurevich Children's Center, scheduled to open this fall in the former clubhouse building. The Vucurevich Children's Center will be comprised of the Matousek Preschool Program, the Mathilda Geppert Infant/Toddler Program, a full after-school program, and extended evening care for children whose parents are enrolled in night classes.

All programs will be in operation by the start of the fall semester. The center will also run a summer program in June, July, and August each year.

Approximately 40 to 60 children, ages 3 to 5, will be enrolled in the Matousek Pre-school Program. These children will participate in age-appropriate educational activities throughout the day.

The activities will incorporate structured teacher directed group time and periods of free play in enriched and carefully planned learning centers, according to USD Childcare Center Coordinator Merle Eintracht.

The Matousek Preschool will prepare children for school by giving them the skills and confidence necessary to succeed, Eintracht said. "The work of children is play; it provides the foundation for academic or 'school' learning. Play helps children become enthusiastic learners," she said. "The Matousek Preschool Program will combine play and structured educational activities so that children are prepared to enter school."

The old clubhouse currently fits the bill of an abandoned building, at least in terms of its exterior appearance, as Johnson, Eintracht and other USD staff members recently toured the site.

The grounds outside the building are overgrown with weeds and high grass. A clinging ivy has taken over much of the exterior walls around the main entrance.

That soon will change, however. Workers have already stripped the interior of the building clean.

New, insulated interior walls, lighting, carpeting and other items will soon be constructed to turn the abandoned building into a state of the art childcare facility, all on one floor under one roof.

"This is just extraordinary. My children went to the old Mathilda Geppert facility, and frankly, it was woefully inadequate 20 years ago," Johnson said as Eintracht described what is planned for the building. "Now, to see the whole program moving under one roof over here taking care of babies and toddlers as well as the traditional childcare programs is just going to be a tremendous asset to the university as well as the students who go to USD."

The care center also received a $129,400 four-year federal grant last fall that is helping to make the building renovation and childcare programs possible.

"This is long overdue. I'm pleased that we could help with a federal grant for campus childcare facilities," Johnson said. "We have to make sure that all of our students, including those who have families, have an opportunity to complete their education. This will go a long way to making sure this will occur."

Workers had stripped away all signs of things inside the clubhouse that were once familiar to Johnson.

The senator was happy to see this prominent change in his hometown.

"This old clubhouse facility is going to be put to a great new use and I'm awfully pleased we were able to combine a federal grant with the assistance of the Vucurevich family to make this a reality," he said.

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