Closure of a popular child care center open for 45 years at the University of Minnesota has been postponed after a storm of protests from parents.

University President Eric Kaler announced the postponement Friday.

"I have heard your concerns about the proposed closing of the Child Development Center," Kaler wrote in an open letter to the university community. "Provost Karen Hanson and I asked [College of Education and Human Development] Dean Jean Quam to postpone the closing ... until we have an alternative, or alternatives, in place."

In January, Quam notified families that the center, which opened in 1974, will close in the summer of 2019. Almost immediately, parents — professors, staff and graduate students — formed a Facebook group to protest.

The center, which cares for 140 children ages 3 months to 5½ years, is the only day-care center owned and operated by the university.

Quam initially said that the center would close to make room to expand another early childhood program used for research and training. Unlike the day-care center, the lab school is not full time and operates only nine months a year.

"We started talking about whether or not we were the best entity to be running a day care," she said last month. Her college spends about $500,000 to $600,000 a year subsidizing the day-care center.

But parents said they were appalled that the university would close a program that's been held up as a national model.

In his letter, Kaler wrote that the center "has a well-known reputation for excellence, yet it serves only a fraction of the University of Minnesota's families who need child care. It is not obvious how it can be scaled in any economical way to provide care to the hundreds of families and children on the waiting list."

Among assessments the U must make, he said, are whether it has the ability, "either alone or with a public/private or nonprofit partnership, to scale the child care services to serve more families," and how to develop a financial model that would ultimately eliminate the university funding subsidy.

"We are under pressure to prioritize our budget, and subsidies of all kinds are under scrutiny," he said.

"I know this decision has caused stress to families. I apologize for that."

But, he added: "I want to be clear: This postponement is not permanent, yet it will be for as long as needed to develop alternatives."

The parents' group, UMCDC Parents & Allies, responded on its Facebook page: "Thank you, President Kaler, for taking this important step toward improving access to excellent early childhood education. We remain committed to sustaining the high quality of the Child Development Center, retaining the outstanding staff and teachers, maintaining continuity of care for current UMCDC families, and expanding to serve a greater number of University families."

Pamela Miller • 612-673-4290