SPICER — Wielding sledge hammers and taking a stance familiar to HGTV viewers, a series of local volunteers took numerous swings Tuesday morning at a wall in the Green Lake Mall in Spicer in a ceremonial step to bring a day care center to northern Kandiyohi County.
The Kandiyohi County Area YMCA — with the financial assistance of local partners in a $800,000 fundraising campaign — is remodeling a vacant section of the mall and turning it into a regional day care center.
When it’s completed this winter, the Early Learning Center will have space for 90 children, from six weeks of age through pre-kindergarten.
“It’s exciting,” said Jenny Holweger, executive director of the YMCA, moments after groups of volunteers put on hard hats and safety glasses and began pounding holes in the walls during the groundbreaking ceremony. “Today we broke through the wall,” she said.
The facility, which could be open as early as Dec. 1, will help reduce a shortage of child care in the region.
“We know there’s a huge need for child care in Kandiyohi County, especially in the Spicer, New London, Willmar area,” she said.
Holweger said there’s currently a need for 255 day care slots just in the Spicer and New London communities.
Having 90 new spots will help reduce that need for in the region, but it won’t solve the problem, she said.
“It’s only 33% of the total amount of child care we need in the area, but it’s a start, and we’re excited to be at that start and ready to go,” she said.
“To get 90 little kids in this space will be pretty magical," said Rep. Dave Baker, who was involved with the planning process. “This is a fabulous day.”
Baker gave kudos to the community volunteers who had a “vision” and worked together to launch the project.
“The Spicer and New London communities came together on this because they knew this was an important thing for northern Kandiyohi County,” he said.
Holweger praised the members of the YMCA board of directors for their “wisdom and progressive thinking” for finding ways to fill the child care gap in the community.
The day care will be located in space that had at one time housed a drug store and clinic. The wall between the two spaces will be demolished and the space reconfigured to include one room for children aged six weeks to 16 months, two toddler rooms for kids 16 to 36 months of age and two preschool rooms for kids aged 36 months through pre-kindergarten.
For the first year, however, one of the preschool rooms will be used for infants to meet the high need there. Holweger said there will be 24 spots for infants, with 12 spots already claimed.
The center will also have room for 28 toddlers, with 14 spots claimed and 30 preschool spots with 10 slots already claimed.
A separate entrance to the center will be constructed on the east side of the mall and an outdoor, fenced playground will be built in the parking lot on the north side of the mall.
Jim Bach, vice president of the commercial division at Marcus Construction — the company that will be doing the work, said there’s a “lot of excitement” about this project, which he said is being watched by people in the region. “It’s a proud day for us,” Bach said.
Fundraising efforts that began earlier this year have generated $640,000 so far. Another $160,000 is needed to reach the $800,000 amount that it will take to fully operate the center.
At the end of August, a “baby shower” will be held with a list of items needed to equip the facility.
Holweger said the public is being asked to contribute money to offset the cost of items such as toys and baby gear. The YMCA will use the money to purchase items that meet licensing requirements.
Anyone interested in reserving a spot for a child in the center should contact the YMCA office in Willmar.