Plans to build Lil’ Wildcat Education Center in Glidden to serve as many as 56 to 60 infants through 11-year-olds received a boost recently when the Iowa Women’s Foundation, in partnership with Casey’s, awarded $8,000 for the project.
Lil’ Wildcat is one of six organizations across Iowa to receive funds for projects that will increase the availability of affordable, high-quality child care. A total of $40,000 was awarded.
Word now is awaited on what would be a giant financial step toward bringing plans for Lil’ Wildcat to fruition. The City of Glidden has applied for a half-million-dollar community development block grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority on behalf of the Lil’ Wildcat Board of Directors.
The city worked with Region 12 Council of Governments’ Chris Whitaker, local assistance director, and Alex Foley, regional planner, on the application. The block grants are federal Housing and Urban Development funds administered by the states.
Whitaker said he expects announcement of the block grants by late January or early February.
“The application is very competitive,” said Whitaker, but added that the Lil’ Wildcat organizers “have done well with their local fundraising efforts to be used for the local match.”
If the Glidden project receives the block grant, “we’d be right on the doorstep to making the drawing on the board a reality,” said Jeremiah Johnson, vice president of the Lil’ Wildcat board of directors.
Johnson said nearly $560,000 has been raised so far and estimated cost of the project is $1.1 million.
“We haven’t been at it very long, and it’s done very well,” said Johnson, noting the project has drawn business, individual and foundation support.
Lil’ Wildcat Education Center, LLC was formed in June 2020 and received 501(c)3 tax-deductible, charitable status.
Johnson said of hopes for the block grant, “It’s a coin-flip. There are other projects, but it’s not a shot in the dark. It’s a well-thought-out plan worked on with (Region 12).”
The approximately 5,000-square-foot, single-level, stick-built structure will be located on Idaho Street (Glidden’s main street, south of U.S. 30) between Glidden-Ralston School building and the Lincoln Club. The area currently is green space and is used for parking for football games.
Lil’ Wildcat’s child care rooms will include:
— Infants, 6 weeks to 1 year old, capacity for eight children.
— Toddlers, 1 to 2 years old, capacity for eight children.
— 2-year-olds’ room, capacity for 12 children.
— 3-year-olds’ (preschool) room, capacity for 16 children.
— 4- and 5-year-olds’ room, capacity for 16 children.
— Before- and after-school room, capacity for 15 children.
There also will be a fenced-in playground, indoor optional additional activity space, a vestibule, a catering kitchen, reception space, director’s office, a laundry room, restrooms for each child care room, and storage space.
If the grant is awarded, plans call for contractor bidding next March followed by groundbreaking. Project completion would be in spring 2022, and opening would be in fall 2022.
The need for a child care center was identified in community visioning meetings held in 2016, followed up with a community survey last year.
A flyer from the Lil’ Wildcat Education Committee promoting the project lists reasons the project is needed. It notes a number of families have to travel out of town to find day care since there are no licensed day cares and only three registered day cares in the city.
The flyer said the entire state of Iowa has a major shortage of day care spaces, including a shortfall of more than 2,400 spaces in Carroll County, where there are nearly 3,600 children up to age 12 but fewer than 1,200 spaces available.
“Carroll County has lost 45% of its child care businesses over the past five years,” says the flyer.
Johnson attributes that decline to difficulty meeting regulations, cost of insurance and a shortage of day care workers as fewer new ones enter the profession.
Overall in Iowa, 75 percent of households with children under age 6 have all parents working outside the home, and the figure is 83 percent in Carroll County, according to the flyer.
The city’s grant application says, “While the Lil’ Wildcat Education Center won’t solve the problem entirely, it will provide the residents of Glidden and the surrounding areas an opportunity to get their children in day care or before- and after-school care.”
The proposal says the project also will have economic-development benefits such as:
— Increase the desirability of living in the community, which has had a steady population of around 1,100.
— Allow children’s parents or guardians the opportunity to work normal business hours outside the home.
— Aid local employers’ ability to attract and maintain workforce.
— Offer potential partnership with local colleges and universities to provide on-hand experience for students enrolled in early-childhood-education programs. That could develop into employment opportunities at the education center or at facilities in the surrounding area.
Johnson commented on the project to the Times Herald, “It’s good not only for Glidden, but it’s also good for Scranton, it’s good for Ralston, it’s good for Carroll. There are people who commute from here to work there. I think that’s why a lot of businesses in the area like the project. It’s only going to bring more workforce into the area, then the workforce should bring kids, which keeps the school district and the community moving or get that younger generation to stick around instead of seeking the lights of the bigger cities.”
The center will operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday 52 weeks a year, excluding holidays, and will have a staff of 15 to 20.
“Studies show that investments in high-quality early-learning programs result in higher wages later in life, increased tax revenue, more-effective public schools, improved personal and public health, less crime, and more-educated, skilled workers,” the flyer for the project says.
“Investments in high-quality early-learning programs mean significant public savings due to a strong return on investment.”
The board of directors adopted the Lil’ Wildcat Education Center name because of the Glidden location and history and pride attached to Glidden-Ralston School, which features the Wildcats nickname; however, the project has no connection to the school. Lil’ Wildcat Education Center, LLC will own and operate the building.
The Lil’ Wildcat board of directors is made up of President Angela Lensch, academic manager, Denison Job Corps; Vice President Jeremiah Johnson, vice president of Midwest Financial in Glidden; Kimberly Whitaker, patient account supervisor at St. Anthony Regional Hospital in Carroll; William Reever, vice president of Reever Farms; Sarah Foley, marketing and retail operations director for New Hope; and Christina Johnson, RN, BSN, staff nurse, neonatal/pediatric transport, St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids.
Kimberly Whitaker and Sarah Foley are not related to Chris Whitaker and Alex Foley, respectively, with Region 12.