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Daycare crisis averted?

Chelsey Smith intends to purchase A Child’s World building and operate childcare business; Andrea Blaise exploring location for childcare center

November 24, 2019
By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer , Estherville News

At Monday evening's Estherville City Council meeting, the council continued a conversation about childcare with Lexie Ruter from the Estherville chamber and Lyle Hevern, Estherville and Emmet County economic development director.

"We're looking for your input to try to address the needs that appear to be pretty big in Estherville," Hevern said.

"It's not just a parent issue; it's an employer issue," Hevern said.

Tara Pyawasit, owner of A Child's World, located in the former McKinley School, announced the center would be closing Dec. 6. Fourteen children will follow Pyawasit and a partner to a smaller daycare in her home. This left parents of 71 children registered at the center scrambling for what to do for future childcare.

City administrator Penny Clayton said a visit with Iowa's Child Care Resource & Referral agency revealed a shortfall in Emmet County of about 379 childcare spots. These numbers, however, reflect registered daycare centers and child care homes, and voluntary non-registered homes. Some of this slack may be taken up in non-registered daycare situations, Clayton said.

Clayton said an issue for the Estherville community is whether a lack of daycare is an impediment to work.

Clayton said Iowa Early Childhood Center has grant programs available for new and existing daycare centers and new and existing in-home programs. However, the grant categories have no funding at this time. Clayton then made a proposal.

"Should the city make a contribution to [the grant] for Estherville-based daycares, whether that be in-home or centers?"

The caveat: only registered daycares would be eligible for the grants. Iowa Early Childhood Center would administer the grant for the city, and take a small fee from the contribution the city made, Clayton said.

However, Clayton said, "Some developments have come up that scale back that need a little bit."

Ruter said in the efforts to meet the need for daycare in Estherville, the best possible outcome would be someone wanting to purchase the existing daycare building and business and keep it open.

"Two days after meeting with the Childcare Resource & Referral center, I get a stop-in from somebody who wants to purchase the current daycare and keep it open," Ruter said.

After discussing with Chelsey Smith of Ringsted the grants available, Ruter proposed a modification to the lesser-known Lifestyle Business forgivable loan. This is a $10,000 loan to purchase an existing business, forgivable at three percent over four years provided the business remains open. This is for a commercial, retail or service-based business as opposed to an industrial business, Ruter said.

"We wrote this with businesses like Heartland Co-op and Estherville Drug in mind, looking for a way to help somebody with a purchase, so what it does is matches $10,000 of your down payment. It has to be your cash, capital investment," Ruter said.

Smith put an offer in on the building, which was accepted with closing scheduled for Dec. 13.

Ruter said the Lifestyle grant is not a perfect fit. One requirement is that it has to be a full time endeavor and not a side business. Smith plans to keep her full time job at Northstar Bank & Agency and do the bookkeeping for the daycare part time, hiring a full time director for the day-to-day operation of the daycare. Another requirement is that the proprietor lives in Estherville. Smith lives with her husband, Derek and their children in Ringsted.

Ruter's proposal was to provide an incentive based on the Lifestyle grant or to change the grant.

"This is the most perfect answer we could ask for. I mean if we're looking at an alternative of starting a nonprofit to run a community-based daycare, buying a building or building a building ourselves, nothing is better than letting the market take over," Ruter said.

Chelsey Smith, reached after the city council meeting, said April Breck has been hired as the new director.

Smith said she and her husband, Derek, "wanted to see the center stay open not only for the current children, but for the future children of the community."

Council member Gary Heckard said, "If we don't give them this grant, is that going to stop them from having the business?"

Ruter said she did not believe the Smiths were going into the venture as something that was going to make them a ton of money, but more as a service to the community.

"I do think this grant makes a significant difference for them," Ruter said.

Council member Brandon Carlin said, "The larger the time frame is between this closing and not, there's going to be other in-homes popping up. I think the fact that this is something we need to stand firm behind and supporthaving a center that's open maybe longer hours than in-home where sometimes people are working ten hour days, whereas in-home, sometimes but not always, they want you here by [a certain time] and out by [a certain time] and I know with our experience with A Child's World, they were open early if you had to go in a little early. I just think a center for our area is a huge benefit."

Smith said, "[The Center is a huge asset to Estherville and Tara [Pyawasit] has done such a nice job with it for the past years; we hope we can continue the same successful business."

Ruter said the plans for the center include one full time job for the director and 14 part-time positions.

Clayton said Upper Des Moines Opportunity would continue to lease two rooms in the building through August, 2020, when it is anticipated all Head Start classrooms would be in the former Roosevelt School building UDMO purchased from the school district.

"We've been hearing from many parents that daycare is an issue in Estherville long before A Child's World closed," Ruter said. "It's one of those things where we hear it, we think, 'Well, we should probably deal with this at some point in time,' but it's never been so immediate."

Ruter also pointed out day care is not just an Estherville or Emmet County problem.

"It's an Iowa problem. It's an America problem," Ruter said.

Council member Dave Seylar said, "I think in the greater scheme of things, for the city, $10,000 is not a very big investment to at least keep the existing spots available."

Andrea Blaise, a registered in-home daycare provider, said she received 16 phone calls inquiring about daycare spots, a few before and many since A Child's World announced its closing. However, her daycare is full. Blaise is the daughter of Sandy Shonkwiler. The two said they were considering the purchase of an Estherville building and converting into a daycare.

Shonkwiler said, "It will not be as large as A Child's World, but our plans are to have a nice center and [Blaise] has met all the requirements to run one."

Council member Roger Guge said, "So there's a continuing need for daycare beyond the 71 positions from the closing of A Child's World, so even with the new purchase going forward, this won't stop your progress?"

Shonkwiler said, "No. She was already looking at her options before [A Child's World] closed. She's at her max and she was already receiving frequent phone calls from parents still looking for daycare spots."

"I know from working at the hospital that recruitment of medical professionals for the area, part of the problem is daycare for people coming in, so it's really difficult," Shonkwiler said.

Ruter said, "We're still definitely in need of more. If we save A Child's World, that's just a first step."



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