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MinnWest makes daycare an 'attractor'

Averi Ellstad, left, Owen Oerten and Zyla Jaquith play Dec. 21 in the infant area at Stay 'N Play Child Care on the MinnWest Technology campus in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)

WILLMAR -- Steve Salzer is hoping the sight of toddlers playing on swings and babies crawling on their tummies will bring new high-tech businesses to the MinnWest Technology campus in Willmar.

In July, a full-time daycare center opened atMinnWest, located on the former Regional Treatment Center grounds.

The daycare is another amenity, along with a fitness center and cafeteria, that is designed to appeal to businesses looking for a place grow, said Salzer, general manager of MinnWest.

"It's an attractor," said Salzer of Stay 'N Play Child Care Inc. "It's an important amenity to provide for employees."

In 2007, MinnWest purchased most of the property and buildings of the treatment center and has been developing a technology campus there by remodeling buildings and leasing space to businesses.

Realizing the challenges of getting metro companies to relocate to Willmar, Salzer said MinnWest is determined to create a professional and attractive atmosphere on the tree-lined grounds that host stately early-1900s buildings.

The daycare is located in the former laundry facility of the treatment center, down the hall from the cafeteria, but there is no remnant of the building's original use.

With 7,300 square feet and a bank of windows that overlooks green space, the facility has been transformed into a spacious, well-designed, colorful and inviting facility for children and their parents -- including parents who work on the MinnWest campus and those who don't.

Stay 'N Play daycare is open to the public, said Kristin Jaquith, daycare director. They are currently at about 50 percent capacity.

MinnWest remodeled the space, but the center is owned and operated by Colleen Kotila, who has owned and operated the Stay 'N Play daycare center in Litchfield for the last 11 years.

"I love the thought of being on this campus," said Kotila.

MinnWest interviewed five existing daycare operators who expressed an interest in operating the facility, said Salzer. Kotila's experience and ideas brought her to the top, he said.

Open from 5 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., the center has separate rooms and teachers for infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers and school-aged children up to age 12.

The center offers flexible full-time and part-time hours with options for drop-ins and those that just want to participate in the pre-school program, said Jaquith.

"We want to fit the needs of everybody," she said.

"Having a lot of options is really important for families," said Kotila.

They are only closed for major holidays and will maintain regular hours during inclement weather -- even if schools have a two-hour late start or close early, said Kotila.

Parents access the daycare center with an electronic key pad by the interior door. Besides providing security, the system also clocks when children arrive and leave. "Parents like that safety measure," said Kotila, and the electronic clock makes billing easy.

The center uses a "play- based" curriculum throughout the program that allows children and teachers to explore areas that are of interest to the children and lets kids learn while they play, said Kotila.

Hot meals are provided as well as formula and baby food for infants. Two separate fenced-in playgrounds are available for the different ages.

Salzer's own 7-year-old son went to the daycare center last summer. Being able to have lunch with his son, or just to see him playing outside during the work day, was more than enough to "brighten your day," he said.

When he gives tours to potential business tenants, Salzer makes sure to bring them to the daycare center. He's confident that the seeing those children and the brand new daycare center will convince "high-level employers" that they should move here.

For more information about Stay 'N Play Child Care Inc., call 320-222-3084.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750