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New child care center opens years after need identified

Free Press - 10/13/2021

Oct. 14—LAKE CRYSTAL — The Lake Crystal community now has its first child care center.

Little Lakers Learning Center opened its doors Wednesday — more than three years after a board formed to start a nonprofit center in response to a study finding there was a day care shortage in the community.

The new center is in the former Crystal Valley Cooperative building on the northwestern edge of the city.

It can serve up to 84 children, ages infant through toddlers, and has space to expand. Only 24 of the spots are filled.

The center is holding an open house Friday for prospective families and to thank supporters who donated funds and time.

"It's definitely been a community project," said board member Devin Moline.

The work to start Little Lakers Learning Center started in 2018 in response to a study that found more child care offerings were needed in Lake Crystal and the surrounding area. The study found a shortage of about 100 spots.

Moline, who is a kindergarten teacher, said she was hearing from families that had to go out of town to find child care and some had to go to multiple providers each day because none had openings for all of their children.

Board member Tom Farrell, former superintendent of Lake Crystal-Wellcome-Memorial Schools, said he also was hearing some of the in-home providers in the region were planning to retire.

A nonprofit and a board of directors was formed. They spent months searching for an affordable site until a move presented an unusual opportunity.

The Crystal Valley Cooperative was moving its office headquarters to Mankato. Some operations would continue in Lake Crystal but its main building was available.

Now a child care center sits amid grain elevators, a weigh station and other agricultural operations.

With some remodeling and outdoor fencing, Moline said it's become a "perfect building" with plenty of indoor and outdoor space for the children and staff and high visibility off Highway 60.

The center has received $175,000 in donations and grants to assist with start-up costs and is awaiting a decision on an even larger state grant application, Farrell said. Other community members donated equipment and volunteered to help with setup.

The center's leaders had hoped to open last month. But meeting all state licensing requirements took a bit longer than anticipated and some construction delays occurred because of supply shortages.

The center' staff director, Dylan Krahling, missed the center's opening day. But he had a good excuse. His wife was having a baby.

The center is still hiring staff and will have about 20 positions when at full capacity.

The center's leaders planned to open below capacity as they eased into operations. They expect to be full within a year.

"I think the numbers are going to increase pretty quickly once people see we're open and ready for your kiddos now," Moline said.

"I think the need has continued to grow here just like it has in a lot of other communities," Farrell said.


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