Rob Blevins, Executive Director of the Discovery Center, kept a close eye on the COVID-19 pandemic since its spread in China, developing contingency plans just in case it made its way to 417-land. In mid-March, he began conversations with the Springfield-Greene County Health Department (SGCHD) about ways the Discovery Center could cater to the community in the time of a crisis.
When local school districts closed, the SGCHD worried about childcare needs, especially for healthcare workers, and Blevins stepped up to the plate. He shut down the Discovery Center to the public and turned it into a temporary childcare facility for healthcare workers, doubling his staff, taking down all science exhibits and turning the open space into defined classrooms. He also applied for and earned a temporary childcare license to legally run the facility.
To maintain the safety of the kids and staff, the center set up a logistics command center that tracks the movements of every class throughout the day, making sure they never intersect with each other as a means to diminish the chances of infection should a child get sick. These extra measures include “dedicated care to cohorts of 10 students so they are only ever interacting with their class and their dedicated teachers from 6 a.m to 8 p.m. seven days a week,” Blevins said in an email. The center has 15 employees who share the role of sanitizing and disinfecting the center, including cleaning the bathroom after each individual use.
The project is expensive—running at full capacity costs $10,000 a day. Through a $10,000 donation from the Central Bank of the Ozarks and another $10,000 donation from the Stanley & Elaine Ball Foundation, the center was able to operate for its first full week and serve 100 children. But the second week is not yet funded, meaning Blevins and his team will have to come up with alternatives, which might include serving fewer children. Nevertheless, Blevins is determined to keep the center open, and is accepting any form of help, whether it's the donation of food and supplies or monetary contributions. As he says, “my team doesn’t quit.”