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New YMCA child care center proposed for Spicer amid Kandiyohi County shortage of nearly 800 slots

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Carolyn Lange / Tribune Elizbeth Illies reads to children Monday at the YMCA Child Care Center in Willmar. Plans have been launched to start a new YMCA day care center in Spicer that would have spots for 90 children.2 / 5
Carolyn Lange / Tribune Kids play Monday at the YMCA Child Care Center in Willmar. Plans have been launched to start a new YMCA day care center in Spicer that would have spots for 90 children.3 / 5
Carolyn Lange / Tribune Elizbeth Illies reads to children Monday at the YMCA Child Care Center in Willmar. Plans have been launched to start a new YMCA day care center in Spicer that would have spots for 90 children.4 / 5
Carolyn Lange / Tribune Troy Pederson, Rachel Potapenko, Sara Carlson, Angie Caskey and Jenny Holwerger pose for a photo Monday at the YMCA Childcare Center in Willmar. They are part of a community effort to start a new YMCA Childcare Center in Spicer that would room for 90 children.5 / 5

WILLMAR — Plans to open a large day care center in the Green Lake Mall in Spicer have been launched in an effort to address the unmet needs for child care in Kandiyohi County.

Pending fundraising efforts, the center could be open this fall and provide enough space for 90 children, ages 6 weeks to 6 years.

That would be a start in efforts to fill a gap in child care services in Kandiyohi County, said Jenny Holweger, executive director of the Kandiyohi County Area Family YMCA.

It's estimated there is a need for nearly 800 child care slots in Kandiyohi County — with a gap of about 288 day care spaces just in the New London and Spicer communities, Holweger said.

The YMCA, which has operated a child care center in Willmar for 19 years, is spearheading this new project in Spicer as a way to "make a dent" in the need for day care, said Sara Carlson, fundraising co-chair.

Given the need for child care services in the Spicer and New London communities, Carlson said it was decided that "something substantial" needed to be done to "take a bite out of that significant need."

Current plans for the space include one room for 12 infants, two toddler rooms for a total of 28 children and two preschool rooms to serve a total of 50 children. Indoor and outdoor playgrounds are planned.

Besides making plans to open a day care in Spicer, the group is working to recruit more home-based providers and to help entrepreneurs write business plans for day care businesses. The YMCA also is studying the possibility of opening additional day care centers in the county.

When the level of need is as great as it is, there need to be "layers of services and layers of solutions," Carlson said.

"We are going to need an-all-hands-on-deck-all-sizes-and-shapes kind of approach to address (the shortage of nearly 800 child care slots)," she said.

Currently, many families "have zero in the way of choices" for day care and "take the spot that they can get," Carlson said.

"When we send out a signal there is no care for your child here, we are doing real damage to the vitality, economically, of our county and our community, and we just can't do that anymore. We have to fix it," said Carlson, calling it a "community problem" that affects people of all ages and political views.

Carlson said Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar has played a vital role in getting the project rolling and pulling in volunteers. But she said the day care shortage happening across the state is not going to be solved by the Legislature.

"Communities have to solve this problem on their own," she said. "There is no magic bullet coming from the state, or funding coming from the state, that's going to solve this."

The YMCA is teaming up with community leaders to spread the word about the project and to raise $575,000 to renovate 5,600 square feet of vacant space on the northeast end of the Green Lake Mall.

During a "quiet phase" of the project prior to publicly announcing plans for the facility, the team of collaborators received a $100,000 donation from Jennie-O Turkey Store, an unspecified gift from Bill Taunton Jr. — who owns the mall — and a $50,000 gift from the Spicer Economic Development Authority, which will also provide potential gap financing at zero percent interest.

A commitment of $20,000 from the Willmar Area Community Foundation and $15,000 from the Southwest initiative Fund will be used to match local donations.

It's hoped businesses and individuals will make an investment in the fundraising efforts so that renovations can begin on the Spicer facility.

"We know that people who want what's best for their community step up, and we believe there will be folks who will step up with significant investments and support to get us there," Carlson said.

Pre-design and pre-engineering work is underway with Marcus Construction, but Holweger said the hammer won't swing until they raise $500,000. She said current donations are at about $225,000.

Carolyn Lange

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

(320) 894-9750
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