By Kay Snyder
Child care has joined workforce and housing as one of the most critical needs across Iowa. According to a report from the Iowa Department of Human Service’s Iowa Child Care Resource & Referral, 28% of Iowa communities are considered child care deserts. A child care desert is defined as a city with more than 50 children in the community and more than three children per child care slot.
Child care shortages are complex issues that must be addressed at different levels. As communities tackle this issue, it is no surprise that Iowa’s rural utilities are engaged and supporting long-term solutions.
Stanton: Need for child care spurs additional development
Stanton has many projects focused on adding to the community’s quality of life while attracting technology companies and new citizens. One key project is the expansion of the Stanton Child Resource Center (SCRC).
Two to three years ago, the community began initial conversations to expand and renovate the existing SCRC facility. But with new considerations due to COVID-19, the planning group began exploring options for a less-expensive facility and one that could accommodate pandemic-related guidelines. These factors led to the decision to build a new SCRC facility in a different location.
As additional people were brought into the planning conversation, an opportunity arose to tap into property in a 22-acre section of land owned by the Stanton Area Industrial Foundation and create a master plan for development of the Stanton Technology Park.
The new 11,000-square-foot SCRC facility will accommodate up to 130 children, which is 50 more than the current facility. It will be the first business in the new Stanton Technology Park, which is the perfect amenity for future businesses and employees in the area.
“A lot of people are looking at getting out of the cities. They’d like to raise their children in a rural setting, but they need good jobs, housing and reliable day care,” says Kevin Cabbage, CEO and general manager of Farmers Mutual Telephone Company. “We will start with the day care and then build around it. This is just one component of an answer to growing southwest Iowa.”
The project is currently in the fundraising stage and dirt work will be completed this fall. The new SCRC is expected to open in Spring or Summer 2022. Southwest Iowa REC, Central Iowa Power Cooperative and Farmers Mutual Telephone Company, support this effort, which will provide electric power and telecommunications to the day care and future technology park.
“Southwest Iowa REC is pleased to support the Stanton Child Resource Center and Stanton Technology Park,” says Phil Kinser, CEO of Southwest Iowa REC. “Local families are well-served by the center, and the need to serve more children and families is critical to area development.”
Glidden: New child care center coming soon
Conversations and planning for a child care center in Glidden began several years ago. These discussions led to the development of Lil Wildcat Education Center, Inc. in 2020, which will construct and operate a child care facility in the community.
Fundraising is in full swing for this new 5,327-square-foot child care facility that will be located next to the Glidden-Ralston School building. The new day care will be a licensed child care center with rooms for infants through five-year-olds, plus a before- and after-school program. Though the education center will be located near the school, it will operate year-round to provide consistent opportunities for families who need day care throughout the year.
Raccoon Valley Electric Cooperative (RVEC) is supporting the new child care facility in several ways through its contributions and also by coordinating funds from Basin Electric Cooperative and CoBank. RVEC also secured funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Revolving Loan & Grant Program to provide a $360,000, 10-year, 0% interest loan from its Revolving Loan Fund when approvals for additional funding and a land sale are cleared this summer.
If all goes as expected, construction will begin within the next few months, with the opening in Spring 2022.
Panora: Little Panther expands to meet demand
Little Panther Daycare & Preschool in Panora has recently broken ground on a 1,440-square-foot expansion of its existing building. This addition will allow the facility to accommodate 15 more children and two additional full-time employees.
Currently, Little Panthers has a three-year wait for its classrooms. Page Arganbright, director of Little Panther, recognized two local cooperatives that stepped up to provide 0% interest loans to support the expansion and speed the path to construction. Cozy Nelsen, CEO of Guthrie County REC, says Little Panther was one of the first projects funded through Guthrie County REC’s Revolving Loan Fund.
“Little Panther Daycare is an invaluable asset for Panora and the surrounding area,” says Nelsen. “Guthrie County REC is proud to continue to support this much-needed expansion.”
The Panora Telco leadership was similarly enthusiastic. General manager Andy Randol says they have also supported Little Panther from the beginning because they know the critical role day care provides in the community.
As with most challenges, there are many answers to help alleviate child care needs in Iowa and the results may be slow to recognize. Iowa’s rural utility partners continue to demonstrate their commitment to community by providing technical and financial assistance to support impactful community initiatives, including child care facilities across the state.
Kay Snyder is the director of marketing and communications for the Iowa Area Development Group.