A few months ago, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth was asked in straightforward fashion at a Crookston City Council meeting: If he had more financial resources at his disposal, did he think he would be able to bring a child care center to Crookston? He said he thought he could.
Hoiseth and a committee of experts and stakeholders had already been working for some time on just that, and had been fine-tuning their focus on the former Sisters of St. Joseph Marywood Residence/Glenmore Recovery Center about a mile east of town. Developer Jeff Evers had recently purchased it at a bargain price, and he was open to the possibility of a child care center becoming his primary tenant.
Fast forward to now. We’re about a week away from Hoiseth providing to CHEDA’s Board of Directors detailed cost estimates on what it would take to make the building east of town a non-profit child care center for anywhere from 50, 60, 80 to even 100 infants, toddlers and children.
Hoiseth previously “guesstimated” those costs to be around $250,000, but he hinted last week that, as talks and plans with Evers have progressed, the actual number is going to be significantly less than that.
From what we know at this point, based on what Hoiseth has said and what City Administrator Shannon Stassen has also noted, the CHEDA Board and the Crookston City Council appear to each be open to contributing some sort of amount of money up-front to help get “Regal Academy Child Care Center,” to be run by Erika Leckie, open and operational. Hoiseth has added that, although it’s all verbal at this point and nothing is in writing, the local business community – negatively impacted by the lack of child care in Crookston – is interested in providing some form and some level of ongoing financial support to keep the child care center open over the long-term.
So what’s the problem? Well, there are a couple problems.
1. To some people in town, that mile or so between Evers’ building and city limits might as well be 50 miles. They seem determined to find an alternate site within Crookston, even if it costs, by comparison to Evers’ building, several hundred of thousand dollars more to convert into a child care center.
2. After a meeting at Washington School last week, at which there was lots of good input, it still seems as though the effort to open a child care center just east of town is now going to get mired in another effort to come up with some sort of convoluted, complicated and comprehensive plan to improve the local child care climate on multiple fronts. A person leaving that meeting had to wonder if people were trying to bite off more than they can chew, and if that meeting had marked another step forward in the process, or a step back.
Someone in the room that night, rightly so, said the problem should be tackled in steps. But if you’re going to have the first step involve efforts that seek to somehow help every single home child care provider and small child care center in town, while placing on the back-burner a promising possibility that a large child care center could be open before the end of this year just east of town...well, don’t you have the order of your steps backwards?
Can’t we, first, work on doing what it takes, within reason, to get the center open and in the process put a nice dent in the dire shortage of licensed child care slots in Crookston? And if doing so is going to be reasonably priced, can’t we keep working on other, smaller-scale solutions that improve the child care landscape in Crookston for providers, parents and everyone else who cares about this community’s future?
Community input, stakeholder input and expert input is great. But there’s an opportunity here to act, while also continuing to attack this critical problem on multiple fronts.