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Shortage of childcare services, solution, remains | News, Sports, Jobs

ABOVE: The new Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center facility at Fairmont includes additional space for the Building Blocks Learning Center and Child Care. However, as seen below, the space was never completed due to rising construction costs.

FAIRMONT– The shortage of childcare in the county has been a hot topic for a number of years and although ideas have been floated and some groups have launched programs, a shortage of providers and places in child care persists. However, a solution is at hand at the Lakeview Methodist Health Care Center in Fairmont, where there is room for an additional 75 child care spaces.

In 2017, when Building Blocks Learning Center and Child Care lost their rental site, Lakeview stepped forward and allowed the daycare to move into their building.

When Lakeview announced plans to expand several years ago, adding more space for Building Blocks was part of the initial plans.

Lakeview Administrator Deb Barnes said Lakeview has already invested $1.25 million in the space.

While this amount should have ended it, due to rising construction costs during the Covid-19 pandemic, the price rose significantly beyond what was budgeted. The concrete has been poured and the framework is in place for the walls. New windows were also installed.

But the space remained unfinished.

Building Blocks is currently full looking after 48 children. That’s the number director Shea Ripley said they were comfortable with. However, since their license allows for 125, they have the capacity and space to install 75 more. They just need the support and funds to complete it.

Meanwhile, The Proper Project, a local child care program funded by the Schmeeckle Foundation, is working to support home child care providers in the county. Ripley thinks there should also be more support for child care.

“I support 100% at home. There are many children that I have talked about at home. Some thrive in home environments, others in centers. I think there should be funding for both and parents should have a choice,” Ripley said.

She noted that right now in Martin County, space is being filled in both home daycares and Building Blocks, which is the only daycare in the county.

This is not surprising considering a study done several years ago that identified a need for 170 additional child care spaces in Martin County.

“We literally, without exaggeration, have at least two or three phone calls a day seeking care,” Ripley said.

She said social services had a list of providers that Ripley had called multiple times and everyone was full.

“You walk past this shell of a daycare center and it’s so close at hand. It would add 75 places immediately, with staff of course,” Ripley talked about the space in the Lakeview addition.

Speaking of the idea behind Project Prosper, Barnes said: “I think that’s wonderful and hopefully in the future there will be more home child care providers, but that doesn’t solve the problem at the moment. And we have a response right now for 75 children.

The Minnesota Business Vitality Council recently released a Child Care Sprint Report, which outlines various statistics, trends, and programs across the state. Lakeview was mentioned in the report for its role in providing child care services.

Although the 38-page report can be viewed on the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) website at, Ripley noted that the report showed that at Minnesota, 2,700 home child care providers closed between 2013 and 2019. Over the same period, centers increased by 184.

“Lakeview has already stepped up” Ripley said.

But Barnes said they needed other people to step in. She said they brainstormed different ideas for finishing the space.

“We are looking to solve this problem. We could take some of our Foundation money and just do it,” she says.

They also plan to eventually collaborate with another group in the city.

Barnes said some YMCA representatives came and were very interested in the space and could use it for after-school programs, which Building Blocks currently does not have.

Barnes said they also considered eliminating some of the items they originally wanted to cut costs. For example, she said they had selected a special wallpaper recommended for a daycare, but they could opt for a simpler wallpaper at a lower cost.

“We’re like, ‘give us walls and floors and we can make it work'” laughed Ripley.

Not only is there the question of how to get the funds, but from whom. Barnes said he ran into trouble because some groups wanted to donate, but Building Blocks is considered for-profit and they were told some groups only donate to nonprofits. Barnes said it closed a few doors.

“We are in the process of working with Shea to bring Building Blocks under our nonprofit umbrella,” Barnes said.

Ripley pointed out that Building Blocks is in a lease with Lakeview and leases its current space and that would be true in the new space as well.

“The fact that we’re for-profit shouldn’t make a difference, because we’re a tenant as if it were a non-profit coming to rent,” Ripley said.

Barnes said one of the benefits of bringing Building Blocks under his umbrella is that it will allow employees to purchase their insurance, which would help attract workers there. Currently, Building Blocks has 13 full-time and three part-time employees, but more are needed with the new space.

The subject of employees is another that comes into play in a major way when we talk about the shortage of child care services.

“The labor shortage is directly linked to the child care shortage and I feel like it’s something that’s being overlooked. We are not going to attract labor if they have nowhere for their children to go,” Ripley said.

“Certainly, like all employers, we benefit from a place where employees can take their children and be available to work. This benefits all employers in the city, not just us,” Barnes added.

Ripley pointed out that while waiting for the project to be completed, Building Blocks is doing well in its current space, but with the new space, they will be able to double the capacity.

“There is an immediate need and there is an immediate response” Barnes said.

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