The topic of child care was once again a key part of the Crookston Housing and Economic Development (CHEDA) board meeting on Tuesday morning. The board received an estimate for the building required for a child care center on the Marywood site from CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth. 

The majority of work being plumbing to get bathrooms from adult size to toddler size with a projected buildout expense between $20,000-30,000.  Hoiseth also reiterated that the feedback he had gotten was that neither the City Council nor CHEDA was interested in an ongoing subsidy for a child care center.  Councilman and board member Steve Erickson said he’d like to approve an amount that wouldn’t require a further commitment by the board and both Erickson and Councilman and board member Tom Vedbraaten emphasized not having an ongoing subsidy.  Councilman and board member Dale Stainbrook said there always seems to be unexpected issues that come up in an older building, especially when talking about plumbing.  Hoiseth said that building owner Jeff Evers has been operating running the building for a year and has taken care of a lot of the maintenance issues with plumbing and expected costs are just for the changes.

Vedbraaten motioned, seconded by Erickson, to spend up to $50,000, including an extra $20,000 contingency in case of issues, on the buildout as the child care center at Marywood progresses and the board voted unanimously in favor of the motion.   Hoiseth said he expects and hopes that CHEDA’s final investment would be no more than half of what was approved.  “The board of commissioners today talked about what it would take to build out that facility,” said Hoiseth.  “I’ve been talking with the landlord/owner and subcontractors that could do the work.  We’ve kind of come up with a number around $30,000.00.  There is a grant with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, Crookston Township has been a strong advocate of that and there are other resources to try to draw on to try and reduce that number.  Nevertheless, the board of commissioners did approve a $50,000 allocation to lift this off the ground and make sure there were ample funds there that we wouldn’t have to come back to the well again because the buildout always has some unexpected in it.  We’re going to be prepared for those and certainly accountable for any dollars of taxpayer money.”

Hoiseth said the costs for buildout has gone down at Marywood as they’ve looked at expanding the square footage.  “We’ve been looking at the Marywood facility for the better part of a year now since Jeff Evers purchased that facility and said it might be available,” said Hoiseth.  “We’ve been looking at every square foot of it and Jeff has been kind to allow us more square footage, more elbow room.  As we’ve done that we’ve been able to reduce the buildout cost significantly.  What we are proposing is that a child care center could go in there about a mile east of town and lessen the burden of the child care crisis in and around Crookston.”

Progress is being made to establish a non-profit to run a child-care center which is currently tied up with the Internal Revenue Service explained Hoiseth.  “The child care center, Regal Academy, has applied to be a non-profit and is tied up in the IRS right now,” said Hoiseth.  “Once that is approved the advisory board would become an operational board responsible for that entity.  That includes hiring an executive director and maybe participating in the staff situation.  Certainly, we don’t want an idea where the staffing becomes competitive from other child care centers.  What we want to talk about is how we get more child care workers into our pipeline.  We discussed whether there is something we can do proactively to try to increase the number in child care workforce.”

The cost of the buildout could be further reduced through a grant.  The CHEDA staff filled out a grant application earlier this month with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation and the foundation gave them the ability to wait on board approval until the next meeting Tuesday morning rather than call a special meeting for the required board documentation.  The grant could be awarded for up to $15,000.00. “The Northwest Minnesota Foundation has some money available that had been appropriated to them,” said Hoiseth.  “One of the grant topics was for childcare availability and we took it upon ourselves to fill out that application and try to make the case for more child care needed in Crookston.  As a board, we’ve been tackling where could this go.  No matter what facility will show up as a child care center it will require some buildout, renovations, refurbishment.  We put the application towards the retrofit of an existing building.”

The Marywood proposal could possibly hold 80 children, including 20 infants and as Sue Murphy from the Sunrise Center pointed out the state regulations would require a minimum of 13 staff.  Staffing, of course, is a struggle and Tu Sommerfeld for the UMC Early Childhood Development Center also pointed out that not having restrooms in the toddler rooms, which is currently proposed would further increase staff, because you need someone to cover while a child is taken to a different restroom.  Hoiseth acknowledged there are still staffing issues that need to be worked out, not just for the proposed Regal Academy, but also on how to increase the child care workforce in Crookston. “Of course we want to work in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Crookston because they already have a curriculum that is designed for that,” said Hoiseth.  “There are also some classes online or applications depending on what level of certification you are looking for.  We look forward to having a conversation with UMC on how we can possibly fit in a more compatible child care pipeline for Crookston and the region.”