FAIRFIELD — A group in Fairfield has announced plans to build a new child care center in the city.
The center will be owned and operated by Jefferson County Kids, Inc., a local nonprofit corporation. Although its design is in the beginning stages, the new facility is slated to be nearly 14,000 square feet and will be licensed to offer between 150 and 200 child care spaces.
Joshua Laraby, executive director of Fairfield Economic Development Association, and Tammy Wetjen-Kesterson, director of Early Childhood Iowa for Iowa/Jefferson/Keokuk Counties, are project managers for the development.
Laraby stated, “After reviewing the strengths and challenges of new construction versus renovating existing facilities, with the help of a comprehensive assessment conducted by Levi Architecture of Cedar Falls, the decision was made to construct a new facility.”
In partnership with Levi Architecture, an in-depth analysis of existing local buildings was conducted before deciding on constructing a new facility. Projected renovation costs came in much higher than expected. To ensure the most efficient use of space and ongoing annual expenses, the Jefferson County Kids, Inc. Board of Directors determined new construction was the best option.
Fairfield was identified as the preferred location in Jefferson County for such a child care center, after a market study was completed in 2018. The study reported a deficit of over 500 child care spaces in the community.
“It’s imperative we move forward to add another child care center,” Laraby said. “The need for access to available, quality and affordable childcare is no longer solely a parent issue, it’s a business issue, a workforce issue, and an infrastructure issue. This is an opportunity to attract and retain workforce and to grow our community.”
Laraby said the Jefferson County Kids, Inc. Board of Directors will be responsible for hiring a director of the center and its staff. He said the board still is discussing how many staffers will be employed, a number which depends on how quickly the center can expand to its full capacity.
Steps leading to this decision
The plan for a new child care center in Fairfield has been years in the making. In late 2017, FEDA and Early Childhood Iowa partnered to research the need for child care in Jefferson County. The first thing they did was pull the business leaders together to inquire if a lack of child care was affecting them, if it was causing employees to miss work or stopping potential employees from moving to the area. The response was a resounding yes, child care was in short supply and it was hurting their businesses.
The Jefferson County Childcare Steering Committee was formed in response, a 22-person committee comprising people from all sectors of the economy. The committee advised hiring an independent third party to perform a survey and get a clearer understanding of the community’s child care needs.
Early Childhood Iowa for Iowa/Jefferson/Keokuk counties funded a formal study at the beginning of 2018, which showed the county had a shortage of more than 500 childcare spaces. The study surveyed parents and future parents, and surveyed businesses. Ten businesses participated, as well as about 400 current and expecting parents. From that study, the Jefferson County Childcare Steering Committee devised a strategic plan to tackle the need for more spaces, ensuring quality care, and addressing affordability.
The steering committee has sought to achieve those goals in three ways. They are:
1) Support existing childcare centers that want to expand.
Early Childhood Iowa put together a grant program whereby childcare centers in the county could receive money for improving or expanding their facility. In the 12 months from August 2018 to August 2019, more than $21,000 was awarded to child care centers in the county to help them expand, leading to 50 more child care spaces.
2) Support in-home day care.
The steering committee and Early Childhood Iowa partnered to deliver two series of grants to in-home providers, both of which are still going. Those who wished to start a new in-home day care could receive up to $7,000 over a period of time, provided the day care was registered with the Iowa Department of Human Services. The second program incentivized existing in-home providers with up to $3,500 for moving up the state’s quality rating system.
3) Add a child care center in Fairfield.
This is the third prong of the strategic plan that is being undertaken now. An assessment of viable sites for a new center is in process. Fundraising efforts will commence in January, with construction slated to start late spring.