By: Eric Sandbulte, The Brookings Register

A group of parents in Elkton has taken the initiative to build a new daycare and education center, filling in what they say is a vitally needed community asset.

Daycare services have always been tight and they don’t tend to stick around in Elkton, according to Brandon Jorgensen, pastor at First Baptist Church and head of the Elkton Community Child Care and Education Center board.

The answer to that ongoing problem is to build and open a licensed childcare center in Elkton, called the Elkton Community Child Care and Education Center. They’ve already begun the process, though challenges do remain.

For one, they’ve gained tax-exempt status from the state to become a nonprofit and are now seeking to do the same with the federal government.

At the moment, they propose to build a 5,000-square-foot building and to be licensed to care for 142 children. A groundbreaking date has not been set.

With the current community need, they expect to take in about 50 children once they open. How much staff would also be required would depend on the ages of the children, as regulations call for different ratios depending on children’s ages.

The building would include such features as: secured entry, an infant room with a nursing area, two toddler rooms, a preschool room, a gym, a room for older and upper elementary kids and a kitchen. The facility and the playground would be fenced in.

Depending on a host of factors, the anticipated cost of getting the building constructed and open will be anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million, when things such as architect fees are taken into account. Getting bids is the next major part of the project the board is working on accomplishing.

Where the facility would be located has already been resolved: First Baptist owns 26 acres of land southeast of town and has donated two acres toward the project. Those two acres have already been rezoned, and the Elkton City Council granted a conditional use permit to allow the daycare and education center to be there.

And as implied by its name, daycare isn’t the only service they’d seek to provide. Education would also be a key component, with plans in place to offer before- and after-school programming and a preschool.

The Elkton Community Child Care and Education Center board came about from a community meeting held in December 2017. There, a group of parents discussed the recurring problem of a lack of daycare services in town.

A board was formed, consisting of 11 members who, as parents, know well the hardships this situation creates.

“There are people on our board talking about needing to go to a different community for daycare,” Jorgensen said. “There’s already somebody on our board who is no longer working the job she was working; she had to quit that job … because she can’t do the daycare anymore.”

From their December meeting, they found that as many as 24 kids were in immediate need of childcare.

In conducting community surveys, the group found widespread support for building and opening a new childcare center. The group then began networking with other daycare providers in the area, such as Arlington, Watertown and Brookings.

They’ve learned a lot through these dialogues, according to board secretary Kaye Squires.

“Every single one of them says they need to build bigger, and they wish they had more room,” Squires said. “Brookings and Watertown have extensive waiting lists, and it’s hard to get in.”

In addition to “build bigger than you think you need,” another recurring bit of advice was to begin fundraising and collecting donations as soon as possible and to involve the community as much as possible throughout.

And finances are one of the trickiest aspects of getting the project through, the board has found. It’s expensive to start up a daycare, and it’s expensive to maintain it.

“You have all these start-up costs, and that’s what we’re finding to be difficult. There are a lot of grants out there to maintain our program and our center, but there’s a limited number of grants that we’re able to find to pay for building and that kind of start-up stuff,” Squires said.

Also, it’s a fine line in setting the rates so that they can sustain the organization and not be too burdensome for families.

In addition to looking for grants and investors, the board is planning some future fundraisers, such as a movie night.

For anyone wishing to donate to the organization, checks can be written out to the Elkton Community Child Care and Education Center and sent to 301 Elk St., Elkton.

At first, First Baptist Church was going to attempt to help by temporarily using its space for childcare until a permanent solution came about, but that never took off.

A structure has to conform to a variety of strict regulations in order to be legally allowed to function as a daycare. So although the church is structurally sound and is perfectly fine in its capacity as a church building, there’d have to be a lot of work, time and money put into it in order to have it act as a daycare, even temporarily.

After that, they began to focus all the more on a permanent structure, which meant looking into things like bids and land.

“This is really a learning process because none of us are in the childcare (business). I mean, Brandon’s a pastor, I’m a speech language pathologist and (board treasurer) Brandi (McDowell) is a store manager, so none of us have that background,” Squires said. “We’re just learning and trying our best … because we want to stay in Elkton, we want to keep our kids in Elkton. But if we don’t have a place for our kids to go, that’s going to be very difficult.”

Contact Eric Sandbulte at esandbulte@brookingsregister.com.

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