Gov. William Donald Schaefer had called the state's newest day-care center a product of "progressive thinking," but some legislators thought his administration's approach was improper and threatened to padlock the $1.2 million building as punishment.

The legislature was miffed because it had not known the center was being built until the project was completed.

But when the punishment seemed to fall on state workers and others who need care for their children, legislative opposition quietly faded.

Yesterday, the state hired an operator to run the center, at the just-completed state office building in Crownsville.

But the state will levy a surcharge on parents to recover the building's cost.

Schaefer, who is known to prefer quick action, led the other twomembers of the Board of Public Works yesterday in unanimously approving a $454,155 contract for Play Centers Inc. of Baltimore to run the center from Aug. 1 until July 31, 1993. The contract also contains four two-year renewal options.

The center is built to accommodate 100children, including a dozen infants and 18 toddlers up to the age of2, said Ardath M. Cade, deputy secretary of housing and community development.

Priority for placements will be given to the children of state employees who work at the new Crownsville office building or at other state facilities in and around Annapolis.

The base fee will range from $65 to $90 a week, based on the child's age, Cade said.

In addition, the surcharge -- tentatively projected to be as highas $16 a week -- will be set on a sliding scale geared to family income.

Children of parents who do notwork for the state will be accepted at the center only if there are not enough children of state workers to fill all the slots, Cade said. Waiting lists will be maintained, with children of state employees again getting first crack at anyopenings.

She said Play Centers Inc. was chosen through a competitive-bidding process in which the firm was the only one of 10 biddersthat submitted a fully acceptable proposal. The selection process included visits to other facilities run by Play Centers, examination ofthe company's records and licenses, and evaluations of its plans, staffing ratios and philosophy.

"Every kind of issue you'd want asked if your child was going to the child-care center," Cade explained.

Play Centers runs 17 other day-care facilities, including one at Point Breeze, a pilot program involving 84 children at the state Department of the Environment.

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