Breaking the ground as a game
Everything is ready for the building site: Over the coming months, a new custom-designed building will be erected on the site that formerly housed the PSI day-care centre. The ground-breaking ceremony was held at the end of April 2023. The childcare centre is scheduled to move back to the PSI grounds in the summer of 2024.
The small mound of loose earth is ready – and the eleven nursery children present most certainly are too. Standing at the edge of 3500 square metres of wasteland next to the PSI staff restaurant OASE, the children are wearing rubber boots, colourful splash suits and bright yellow helmets, as well as serious expressions. It is Thursday, at the end of April. The children are the photogenic guests of honour at today’s ground-breaking ceremony for the new building that will house the PSI day-care centre – and a few grown-ups are present too: employees of PSI as well as the architect’s office and the construction company.
Karsten Bugmann, Head of Human Resources Management at PSI, squats down next to the children and explains what is planned for the coming hour: “First of all, Christian is going to tell us something and then we’ll take a photo with those shovels and diggers. You can dig the hole there so that we can build the day-care centre. Is that okay?” The children nod enthusiastically. All set to go.
The land has been derelict since the previous buildings, dating back to the early 1960s, were demolished in late summer 2020. The PSI day-care centre was originally set up through a parents’ initiative in 1997 and had been housed here ever since. It started off with one group, but over the years it grew to five day-care groups and, at times, one preschool group. The need for childcare kept growing. Even parents who were not employed at PSI were able to bring their children, an offer that always enjoyed great popularity in the region.
PSI’s Director Christian Rüegg, who is now standing on the mound with the eleven children, emphasises the importance of the facility for PSI: “This day-care centre is important for the careers of the fathers and mothers who work at PSI. And in practical terms it also helps us to motivate more mothers to take up a scientific or technical career with us.”
The speeches drag on a little, testing the patience of some of the children. One of them leaves the mound of earth in frustration. A carer sweeps the child into her arms comforts them. The others hold out until the end of the speeches and then line up for the photos, together with the grown-up guests, with shovels and two toy excavators.
Tuba Demirhan, an employee of PSI’s Buildings and Services Department, who is the construction project manager for the new day-care centre, explains that the demolition of the old building in 2020 moved the schedule of rebuilding the day-care centre up. “At the end of 2019, we discovered and identified a number of defects in the old buildings. It wouldn’t have been worth fixing them at this stage and we instead decided to go straight ahead with the new building.”
An interim solution in Rüfenach
After that, things happened very quickly: “We moved to Rüfenach over the summer holidays in 2020,” says Simone Brunner, head of the PSI day-care centre. Rüfenach is a village some four kilometres from PSI. A very good interim solution had been found there in the buildings that used to house the children’s ward of the Aargau Psychiatric Services.
Now Brunner is looking forward to the new building. “Most day-care centres are set up in existing buildings which are adapted as well as possible,” she says reflecting on her many years of professional experience. This time, things are different: Brunner and her team were closely involved in planning the new building. “The design of the spaces, the arrangement of the windows, the colours and materials – we were really given a say in everything. For example, everything is now laid out so that during a normal day we can always keep an eye on several rooms at once. This is very helpful in terms of managing our resources,” Brunner says happily.
In the meantime, the children have begun working – symbolically – on the small mound of earth, vigorously shovelling around the loose soil. The two yellow excavators are very popular, and taking turns on them seems to work at least most of the time.
Looking at the derelict site between 2020 and 2023 it may not have been immediately obvious, but a lot did happen during those years. “We started planning and awarding contracts for the new building as soon as the old ones had been torn down,” explains construction manager Demirhan.
A timber structure with potential for expansion
After today’s ground-breaking ceremony, the wasteland will become a building site. The basement and the ground floor slab will be made of concrete, but everything above that will be built from timber. This fits in with the natural surroundings that border this part of the PSI site: a forest on one side and the River Aare on the other. “We also felt that it was a good, haptic material for a day-care centre, as well as fulfilling our desire for sustainability,” says Demirhan.
Because the PSI day care centre should be able to continue to grow over the coming years, six group rooms will be built at once – and the basic structure is such that two more groups can be added later if needed. After all, the occupants of the Park Innovaare buildings next door to PSI will be moving in at the beginning of 2024, meaning that a number of other employees may also need on-site childcare.
The new building for the day-care centre will be completed in just over a year, so that the centre can move back to PSI in the summer of 2024.
Karsten Bugmann, Head of Human Resources Management, whose responsibilities also include the day-care centre, believes there are good reasons for having the child-care facilities back on PSI’s own premises. “Logistically, it’s convenient for the parents,” he says. “It’s a straightforward reasoning: I’m going to work anyway, so I might as well bring my kids here too. And secondly, there is an emotional argument, which is probably even more important: The fact that the day-care centre is on campus makes it part of our PSI family, so to speak.”
The eleven children now stomping across the meadow and the pits dotted around the wasteland will not actually witness the return themselves. They belong to the oldest cohort of the day-care centre, and will be moving on to preschool this summer.
After today’s event, the PSI day-care centre’s own shuttle bus will take them back to Rüfenach. Maybe they’ll tell their friends there about the planned new building. Or maybe they will just tell them about the two yellow toy excavators, which were probably today’s highlight.
Text: Paul Scherrer Institute/Laura Hennemann