After a busy morning of sitting crisscross applesauce during story time, of standing still like a statue in line, and of remembering to raise a hand before speaking (even when you’re ready to burst with excitement), the Curious Caterpillars skipped and ran outside to the playground, eager to participate in one of the highlights of their week.
“Where’s Waldo?” sang Melissa Engelman, a co-teacher of the so-called Caterpillars, 3- and 4-year-olds at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Child Development Center on Newstead Avenue, a center that serves employees of BJC HealthCare and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
“I see him, I see him!” yelled Eliott Doss, 4, hopping in his bright yellow sneakers.
“Me too, me too!” shouted Ryan Thompson, 4, jumping in his green dinosaur jacket with the horned hoodie.
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,” Simone Boyd, 4, counted breathlessly as she twirled two times in a row. “He is by the elevator on floor seven.”
And, indeed, there was Waldo. The elusive children’s book character perched half inside, half outside an elevator shaft at Washington University’s Neuroscience Research Building, currently under construction at 4370 Duncan Ave. The soon-to-be 609,000-square-foot, 11-story building sits across the street from the day care and faces the playground.
Waldo — bespectacled and dressed in his signature red-and-white-striped shirt, knit cap and jeans — first began greeting the children in February, thanks to workers at McCarthy Building Companies, the main contractors for the site. “The kids have been excited watching construction, so we thought it would be fun for them to have something to look for as the building was being erected,” said Jason Pavia, the project superintendent and one of the workers charged with moving Waldo to new spots each week.
The Waldo cutout is 6 feet tall and weighs 20 to 25 pounds.
“The kids love looking for Waldo,” said Margie Zitko, manager of the center, which cares for about 150 children daily, ages 6 weeks to 5 years. “Everyone involved with the neuroscience building has been phenomenal. They keep us informed about the construction, make it as convenient for us as possible and the workers are so friendly. The kids love seeing the trucks and cranes. They’ve been excellent neighbors.”
Being a good neighbor to the surrounding area is the backbone of all construction projects, said Steve Sobo, the university’s executive project manager for the building, as well as executive director, strategic projects, at the medical school. “The new neuroscience building is rooted in community,” Sobo said.
Before Waldo’s debut at the building site, Zitko and her staff introduced the older children to the Waldo books and hid 20 smaller Waldo cutouts throughout the day care, behind bulletin boards, next to backpack cubbies and inside bookshelves.
“We’re all crazy for Waldo,” said Lula Weber, a 4-year-old who has a hypothesis. “I’ve noticed Waldo keeps going up, up, up. I think he’s going to keep going up the floors until the building is done. I think he will be easy to find from now on because he likes the elevators and he likes to go way up high.”
Pavia confirmed the validity of Lula’s hypothesis. “Waldo is going up with the building, but we’re trying to mix it up so he’s not always by the elevator,” he said. “I imagine we’ll have to start moving Waldo every couple of weeks because we are running out of spots as we enclose the building. We’ll have to get creative.”
Not to worry. The pre-kindergartners in the Sand Clan class have a suggestion.
“The crane!” shouted Aria Kurtovic, 5.
“We want Waldo on the crane,” echoed Henry Lanier, 5 (er, correction — Henry pointed out that he is 5½, not 5).
“It’s one of my big wishes,” the 5 ½-year-old added.
Pavia hinted that Waldo-on-the-crane is a wish that just may come true. “They should keep a watchful eye on Waldo, and maybe their request will be fulfilled.”