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PHOTO CAPTION:  The sun shined and bubbles filled the air as stakeholders, community members, staff and students officially opened the new, first of its kind in Europe, USAG Benelux-Schinnen Child, Youth & School Services Center in Brunssum, the Netherlands. The state-of-the-art facility will serve children from infants to teenagers from 18 NATO countries including the U.S.  Photo Credit: Mrs. Jennifer Aldridge (USACE)

September 20, 2013
By Mrs. Jennifer Aldridge (USACE)

BRUNSSUM, Netherlands -- Local children sent bubbles skyward, marking the official opening of the combined Child, Youth and School Services Center with military leaders and community representatives during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.

"We are developing the next generation of NATO leaders here in this facility," said Lt. Gen. Richard Tieskens, the Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum chief of staff.

The new CYSS Center is the first of its kind in Europe. The facility joins traditionally separate child development and youth centers, under one roof, to accommodate newborns through 18-year-olds.

"This facility offers a wide range of quality programs to help NATO families meet their parental challenges and maintain mission readiness," Tieskens said. "It also increases care space in almost every area and age group to include: day care, school age services and teen programs, including sports."

With 207 total spaces -- 102 in the Child Development Center, 45 in the School Age Services Center and 60 in the Youth Center -- the facility currently has no wait list for enrollment.

In the past, small, dated facilities meant child care space was at a premium in this community, said Jamie Ruffini, chief of U.S. Army Garrison Benelux CYSS.

"This building allows us to offer additional spaces, which is a huge need here," Ruffini said. "With our youngest children, we were able to standardize the groups and classrooms -- we have an additional infant room, which was really needed. Now, we can also offer the Strong Beginnings Program, our prekindergarten program, built on the tenents of schools in the U.S."

Similar to bases throughout Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg, facilities here date back to the 1960s when the installation was originally built. Previously, the old centers were located in buildings not designed or intended for child care.

"[The facilities] were modified and [CYSS] made do with what we had to offer the programs we needed to," Ruffini said. "This is an amazing opportunity to offer a brand new facility, built specifically for the services we provide. This makes everything really great for the children, but also for the staff -- it makes their jobs a lot easier because of how [the facility] is designed."

In many families today, including those in the military, both parents work outside the home. When Tieskens was raising his family, that was not the case -- his wife took care of their four children, he said.

"Until 20 or 30 years ago, it was not the habit for both parents to have jobs, but now it is," Tieskens said. "From personal experience, I can tell you how important it is to have people looking after your children. I didn't have the privilege of such a fantastic facility like this in our backyard. The facility enables our parents to access safe, healthy and professional child care."

In addition to serving the U.S. military community, the center is open to all NATO members as it is located on a NATO installation. This provides children a unique opportunity to interact with one another and learn valuable cultural and language differences.

"Here, there are people from everywhere," said Jessica Reath, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District project engineer. "I think that is really awesome for the kids. They get to meet all these kids from all over the place, learn their customs and cultures, and words from their languages. I would have loved that as a kid."

During the ceremony, Tieskens expressed gratitude to the U.S. for opening enrollment to all alliance countries.

"It is encouraging to see the well-timed construction of this facility as it will give our community increased capabilities and peace of mind," Tieskens said.

Soldiers, students and staff were eager to check out the new, state-of-the-art center upon its completion.

"From the first time they walked into the building, the kids, as well as their parents, had an amazing reaction to what they saw," Ruffini said. "They love how the building is designed."

The facility is fully loaded with a computer lab and homework center to finish schoolwork; a music room to jam in; activity rooms, outdoor play areas and a basketball court; a demonstration kitchen for cooking; a raised platform for performances; large atriums and a high-tech video surveillance system for safety. Parking is also a vast improvement for parents.

In addition, as an engineer, Col. D. Peter Helmlinger, USACE Europe District commander, spoke of the hidden "green" features to an audience of future environmental stewards.

"The project was designed to save over 70,000 gallons of water per year through the installation of low-flow, water-efficient fixtures. Outside views are provided in 90 percent of the classrooms, connecting the staff and students with natural surroundings and light. And 80 percent of construction waste was diverted from the landfill and recycled," Helmlinger said.

This facility is on track to be Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver certifiable by the U.S. Green Building Council. It will be only the second newly constructed building in the Netherlands to gain this distinction.

While the sustainably designed, one-stop-shop CYSS center may be an impressive structure, it's the education taking place inside the facility that deserves the most attention and praise, Tieskens said.

"I am told there are 18 different NATO nations registered at this facility. Just like that, parents, the children are learning what it means to live and work in a multinational environment. They are learning we can achieve more when we work together," he added. "What a perfect compliment for this Allied Joint Force Command Brunssum."