By CHELSEA DAVIS Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — Day care options are expanding in Ottumwa after several organizations learned of a large gap in services.
Melissa Schuttlefield, parent of a toddler at Ottumwa Regional Health Center's Child Development Center slated to close on May 24, says the Ottumwa YMCA, Seton Catholic School and the Ottumwa Community School District are all stepping up to help fill the need for day care in the community.
Since a meeting between Indian Hills Community College, ORHC and parents on April 9, Indian Hills President Jim Lindenmayer has held meetings with local businesses and parents to look for options.
This week, several organizations met to plan how each would take on a more significant role in day care.
Indian Hills' Child Development Center will take on 32 of the 76 displaced children.
"Several families sought out alternative care, leaving 26 children that IHCC was not able to accommodate who did ask to be put on the IHCC waiting list," said Jill Budde, dean of health occupations.
The Ottumwa YMCA plans to expand its Discovery Lane Early Childhood Development Program to add 25 children to its current 100, a process executive director Tom Sisler hopes will be solidified by late May or early June.
"Some [families] have already registered or are ready to register," Sisler said. "We are moving around some of the classrooms so we can become more efficient and increase capacity for some of the transitioning childcare families."
Seton also launched its first-ever after-school program this spring, running from 3-6 p.m. The school is also looking into whether there's a need for child care before school that could run from 6-8 a.m.
"Through this, they're recognizing even more that there's a need, and they're doing something about it," Schuttlefield said.
While the school district has unlimited space for its half-day program for 4-year-old preschoolers — which is free to parents — a decision was made to add a section of all-day care for 16 to 20 4-year-old pre-schoolers this fall, which will require tuition, said Superintendent Davis Eidahl, because "I understand a half-day doesn't work for some families."
"We aren't in the business of day care, but we are in the business of child development," Eidahl said. "We sat at the table for this because 4-year-old child development is a key component of our strategic plan to ensure we graduate each and every child prepared for a successful post-secondary transition. It all starts early."
The district will also launch an all-day, free "Kindergarten prep class" this fall for those 5-year-olds with late summer birthdays who don't qualify for Kindergarten.
"We run into many students with late birthdays that don't qualify for preschool funding, yet they aren't quite ready for Kindergarten," Eidahl said. "This would be a transition in between the two."
In addition to these new programs, the school district will continue to offer its longstanding Prime Time Youth Care program, where working parents can drop off their children as early as 6 a.m. and pick them up as late as 6 p.m.
Schuttlefield said there is also another group of people "working to start a day care center in September," though she could not name them as they are still in preliminary planning stages.
"I've been really pleased with how our existing centers have stepped up," she said. "The Y, Seton, the school district — they're doing what they can, and they are truly caring for our children."
Indian Hills' Small Business Development Center will give those wanting to start a day care consultations and business planning. A free class on how to start a day care will be held 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Advanced Technology Center.
"If there are people in the community thinking they're interested but not sure if they can do it, they will — free of charge — help you do that," she said. "They'll help with your business plan, give you advice and suggestions and teach you what certifications you need. We do need more people to open up some quality day care. The need for quality day care continues, because there are people who are trying to expand, but then they're going to reach full capacity, and we'll have a need greater than that."
For more information on the class, call Bryan Ziegler at 641-683-5127 or Kelly Gale at 641-683-4278.