Pittsburgh Int’l Adds On-Site Childcare Center

Pittsburgh Int’l Adds On-Site Childcare Center
Scott Berman
Published in: 

As airports across North America feel the squeeze of a tight labor pool, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) recently unveiled an appealing perk to help attract and retain employees. In September, a daycare center inside its landside terminal opened under the management of nationwide chain La Petite Academy.

Trudi Shertzer, an Operations duty manager who began working at PIT in 2008, doesn’t mince words about the new facility. “I think it’s wonderful,” she says. Shertzer and her husband Ben, a wildlife administrator at the airport since 2010, were quick to enroll their 8-month-old-son, Hunter, when PIT officials announced the option. And the entire family attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony and open house this August.

For Trudi, the new center is about “combining our love for the airport with our love for our child.” Having Hunter close by during the workday gives her extra peace of mind.

“It makes it a lot easier on the parents,” Ben adds. “You’re already on your way to work. You’re stopping at a location on-site, and you can check on him at any point in the day.” The center even has an app that provides parents with live video streams.


Project: On-site Childcare Center

Location: Pittsburgh Int’l Airport

Facility Size: 5,315 sq. ft.

Site: Section of existing landside terminal

Initial Hours of Operation: 6:30 a.m.- 6:30 p.m., 5 days/week 

Capacity: 61 children, ages 6 weeks to 5 yrs. old

Facility Operator: La Petite Academy, owned by Learning Care Group

Planning & Construction: 

Opened: Sept. 2023

Financial Arrangement: Allegheny County Airport Authority pay center’s administrative costs, resulting in about 10% discount for airport employees

Funding Support From: Hillman Family Foundations; Benedum Foundation; Trying Together

Key Benefits: Employee recruitment & retention tool; convenience, cost savings, peace of mind for airport workers

Reports about Hunter’s first day at the new facility were positive. “Last we saw him, he was playing with the toys and playing with the staff,” Ben says. “He was having fun.”

The Shertzers are thrilled to have an attractive childcare option at their workplace and consider it another benefit of working at PIT. They say the new facility makes them feel like the airport wants them at work and is investing in their future.

That’s music to the ears of PIT officials—especially Allegheny County Airport Authority Chief Executive Officer Christina Cassotis and Lisa Naylor, the Authority’s chief human capital officer. Cassotis and Naylor began spearheading the daycare project in 2017 as part of a three-pronged initiative to retain existing employees and attract new talent to PIT. The other two components are transportation and job training. Programs to address all three issues are well underway as construction continues on a new $1.4 billion landside terminal slated for completion in 2025.

While PIT is one of the first U.S. airports with an onsite childcare center, others have similar projects in the works or are developing their own ways to help employees find childcare. (See below for more information.)

La Petite Academy at PIT has capacity for 61 children, ages 6 weeks to 5 years. Airport employees receive top preference for enrollment, but slots are also available for children of airline personnel, TSA employees, concessionaire staff and others who work at (but not for) the airport—including 500 or so construction workers building PIT’s new terminal. Enrollment is not open to the general public. 

Innovative Move

Eliminating obstacles to employment and increasing workforce diversity drove the ambitious daycare project. “We focus on going further for all,” Cassotis explains. “We think about what we can do for the airport community and for the region and for the industry. In this case, we know one of the best ways to have our workforce better represent the community that we serve is to break down barriers to entry into this workforce.”

Childcare costs are a daunting challenge for millions of Americans nationwide. The U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the annual price for center-based childcare for one child can be as much as $17,171, depending on the region and a youngster’s age. Median costs are 19.3% of family income nationwide and 14.3% in Allegheny County, PA, where PIT is located. Furthermore, many childcare workers left the industry during the pandemic, putting additional pressure on working parents and providers.

At PIT, the Airport Authority is helping defray costs for employees by covering the administrative costs of the new on-site childcare center. Officials decline to disclose the specific financial arrangement; but Cassotis notes that PIT employees end up paying about 10% less than prevailing local prices.

Multiple Models

The parent company of La Petite Academy, Learning Care Group, has various cost structures and arrangements keyed to local markets and corporate clients such as PIT. For example, there is a La Petite location less than one mile from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Its 102 slots are prioritized, in order, for children of LAX employees, then company employees and finally city workers. If slots remain, they are open to the general public.

Sean Sondreal, chief development officer for Learning Care Group, explains that some corporate clients buy slots within existing facilities to guarantee spaces for their workers, and others subsidize centers that are near employee homes or along commuter paths.

However, having a facility inside an airport is unusual. In fact, less than 5% of the company’s corporate clients have on-site childcare centers. One is at the Pittsburgh headquarters of retailer Dick’s Sporting Goods, on land leased from PIT. But offering on-site childcare may be a growing trend. Sondreal reports that Learning Care Group now has 35 clients doing so, and expects there to be 50 by the end of 2024.

The arrangement at PIT stands out in several respects, he adds. “Unlike many clients, PIT was very much led by a passion to have a childcare center onsite,” Sondreal points out, “They had a vision that was less about the dollars and [facility] than it was about the quality and the impact on the lives of their employees.”

Learning Curve

Creating a childcare center was a new, complex undertaking for Airport Authority officials. “We run airports, not childcare centers, so the biggest challenge was learning what it took to get this done,” Cassotis recalls.

“This was a very, very long process,” she adds, “We looked at all possible sites, what’s within the noise contour, and what the FAA would approve.” The project also required plenty of research about options, costs, operators and more.

Naylor reports that the Airport Authority reached out to regional stakeholders for guidance and assistance navigating the legal and legislative aspects. Key sources included U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, State Rep. Valerie Gaydos, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, the Hillman Family Foundations and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation. “We could never have done this by ourselves,” Naylor emphasizes.

When choosing a facility operator, PIT officials sought two qualifications in particular: a proven track record and the ability to accept state subsidies for applicants. The latter was especially important to accommodate part-time workers of airport tenants such as fast-food vendors and wheelchair runners.

Learning Care Group fit the bill on both fronts. Including the center near LAX and the on-site location for Dick’s Sporting Goods at PIT, La Petite Academy operates about 450 childcare centers in the United States. The company’s overall portfolio includes 1,070 facilities under 11 brand names nationwide.

As Cassotis recalls, “There was definitely some work involved in finding the right operator. It had to be someone we felt we could work with. This is for the children of our staff and our partners.”

Airport officials approached Learning Care Group in 2018, and talks accelerated in 2021. Sondreal describes the Airport Authority as highly involved and oriented toward partnership. Together, the organizations hammered out an operating contract and a 5,315-square-foot space within the airport.

The new onsite center opened in September to the delight of many PIT parents.  Although the Learning Care Group declined to disclose initial enrollment figures, Sondreal says that demand for care is strong. “In the case of new schools, enrollment builds steadily over the first six months as families gently exit their existing care arrangements,” he elaborates. 

Given the promising start at PIT, Sondreal has a word of advice for other airport executives considering similar projects: “Have an open mind. There are multiple solutions to the problem.”

He says starting costs for new construction can range from $3 million to $7 million, depending on a facility’s size and whether land is already owned or needs to be procured. As a result, he encourages capital-constrained airports to explore options with locations that already exist in their communities. Whatever the program, “It’s a big capital commitment,” Sondreal advises.

Such initiatives also take time: It can take 12 to18 months to retrofit an existing space, and 18 to 36 months for a new facility, he notes. 

What’s Next

Currently, La Petite Academy at PIT operates from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., five days a week. But Cassotis hopes to expand that soon. “My goal is to get this to 24/7,” she says. “We’re looking for the third shift to take advantage of this. After all, we’re a 24/7 facility.”

There also is notable progress on two other key programs to help attract and retain PIT employees. The Airport Authority recently convinced the regional transit authority to add bus routes to/from the airport, and is leading a job training program called PIT2Work for those interested in the construction trades. In July, the first 12 participants graduated from the five-week course, with hands-on experience at the airport’s massive terminal project. Encouraged by the results, airport officials may accelerate the pace and scope of the training program. Slots at La Petite Academy are available for children of PIT2Work participants, underscoring the inter-related nature of the airport’s programs.

Cassotis describes the new daycare center, public transportation option and job training program as “sticky” or foundational benefits that encourage employees to continue working at the airport for a long time. The difference is investing in employees as people as opposed to just filling open positions, she explains.

In the Spotlight

Curiosity about PIT’s programs is running high. First Lady Jill Biden visited the airport a couple weeks before its recent PIT2Work graduation, and the onsite childcare center has garnered national news coverage.

Naylor notes that there has been robust interest in the daycare center from parents, other airports and businesses outside the industry. Sondreal reports that Learning Care Group is in early discussions with at least five other airports about setting up childcare programs.

Speaking as a parent who uses PIT’s new daycare center, Shertzer thinks it makes sense for airports to invest in the people who take care of their infrastructure. “By having childcare in a cost-efficient place, you’re helping your employees be more at ease about things they have to deal with outside of work,” she elaborates. “I think that’s a great asset other airports should really look into, and I hope that more follow our lead.”

In the spirit of industry camaraderie, PIT leaders invite other airports to contact them about their experience providing on-site daycare. Questions can be directed to Camilla Cionni, project manager, Human Capital Planning, at ccionni@flypittsburgh.com or Deb Bufalini, Administration Services director, at dbufalini@flypittsburgh.com.

Employees at Work, Children at Play

Pittsburgh International isn’t the only North American airport addressing workers’ desire for convenient daycare.

Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX) is in the final design phase of an onsite facility, with $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds going toward the build out. The airport also successfully tapped ARPA funds to help workers find other local childcare until the new center is built.  

In Canada, a YMCA childcare facility opened at Kelowna International Airport this fall. The center will have 86 spots for infants through 5-year-olds.

Other airports opt to preserve valuable terminal space. Los Angeles International (LAX) owns a nearby childcare facility that is run by a private operator. And for decades, San Francisco International (SFO) has financially supported a center in a county-owned building located a few miles from its campus. In turn, airport workers receive priority enrollment, extended hours of care and, in some case, tuition assistance. This summer, members of the Airport Commission unanimously agreed to subsidize up to $7 million of childcare services for children of airport-based employees over the next five years.

Several airports, including Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International and Denver International, are currently assessing needs and exploring ways to help workers address their childcare needs.

Boston Logan International, John F. Kennedy International and Miami International Airport all previously had onsite childcare centers but have since discontinued their programs.


2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement

Giving back to the community is central to what Charlotte Douglas International Airport and its operator, the City of Charlotte Aviation Department, is about, and last year was no different. 

Throughout 2022, while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued our efforts to have a positive impact on the Charlotte community. Of particular note, we spent the year sharing stories of how Connections Don't Just Happen at the Terminal - from creating homeownership and employment opportunities to supporting economic growth through small-business development and offering outreach programs to help residents understand the Airport better.

This whitepaper highlights the construction projects, initiatives, programs and events that validate Charlotte Douglas as a premier airport.

Download the whitepaper: 2022 Charlotte Douglas International Airport Report of Achievement.



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