Friday, March 1, 2024

Committee hears challenges to growing Minot’s childcare

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Jill Schramm/MDN
Caleb Heilman speaks to the Minot’s Childcare Committee Thursday. Members Rianne Kuhn and Bekka Oswill listen in the background.

Members of Minot’s Childcare Committee will be looking at recommendations to send to the Minot City Council when they meet again in mid-March.

The committee began studying solutions to the childcare shortage last March, hearing from providers, parents, the coordinator of West Fargo childcare grant program and others.

On Thursday, the committee took input from a provider interested in expansion and a resident working to open a childcare facility at Minot State University.

Caleb Heilman told the committee his interest in opening a childcare facility stems from his family’s own childcare challenges. While his two young children have been placed in a home daycare, an infant is passed between grandparents and himself because of lack of a childcare opening. He said he and another employee at times have their children with them at work or must stay home because of lack of childcare.

“My two employees that don’t have children are constantly asked to take on the burden of us not being able to do our jobs. So it’s not just the people with children it’s been hard on,” Heilman said.

Originally, he said, considered operating a daycare in the gym building he uses in his business for a before and after school program. However, it was difficult to make the changes to meet the licensing requirements, he said. It also was difficult to find a property owner willing to lease or make the renovations necessary to accommodate childcare licensing requirements.

“That was when I started the process of looking into financing to just do a new building,” he said. With the help of the Minot State University Development Foundation and North Dakota Development Fund Childcare Program, which offers low-interest loans, financing was put in place.

“If all goes according to plan, the plan is to build the new facility on campus on the development foundation’s land. They are going to finance half of it. North Dakota Development Fund is going to finance the other half,” he said.

Heilman said he has met with civil engineers regarding site plan design and expects to apply with the city for a conditional use permit. The land being leased is south of Model Hall in a residential area.

The proposed Montessori preschool would serve 25-30 children and the daycare would serve 40-50 children. Enrollment would be open to any family in the community, but MSU would benefit through opportunities for students in its Early Childhood Development Program to gain experience.

Heilman said the concern is that after investing money into a lease and engineering, he still has no guarantee of getting the necessary city permits and a childcare license.

“It’s the uncertainty,” he said. “The cart feels like it’s in front of the horse, for sure.”

He explained he can’t access childcare grant money for the building project until licensed, but he can’t get licensed until the building is done.

“It’s hard. It’s difficult to get these things off the ground. It’s been about 18 months in the making,” Heilman said.

Committee member Amy Jenkins said the project is an example of a situation that needs correcting. She noted Heilman has had to search for information just to get to this point, and the city has no mechanisms that might reduce the cost to someone looking to start a childcare facility.

“There’s just a lot of things that I think the city can look at doing or providing or that we already have for resources that could maybe enable somebody to do this more efficiently, more quickly,” Jenkins said.

The committee also briefly discussed locating childcare facilities in zones already public, such as schools, because it reduces the need and cost associated with zoning permits.

The committee also noted the need for more infant care. Childcare openings are available in Minot for preschool children, but openings for babies and toddlers through age 2 remain scarce.

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