The Pella School Board held a work session to discuss a preliminary plan to tackle the lack of childcare services in Pella that involves the school district, local businesses and community members.

Karin Peterson and Tricia Van Zee with Pella Corporation presented an agenda that addressed the city’s current reality surrounding childcare, problems that need to be solved, a potential approach to the identified problems and steps to activating a solution. The agenda presented to the board was based on the results of a county-wide survey conducted by First Children’s Finance in 2018.

Based on results of the survey, population ages from zero to nine are increasing, 77 percent of parents in the workforce need childcare and 43 percent of parents prefer a DHS-licensed center setting. The median family income in Pella is $83,000, while the childcare assistance threshold for an individual household is $33,000.

Additionally, 61 percent of parents who took the survey indicated it is difficult to find childcare in the city. The survey also indicates Marion County’s childcare supply is declining, with a loss of 74 DHS-certified positions. There is also a shortage of childcare space, particularly with infants.

“The solution has to be additive and incremental, so we were really intentional as we worked through brainstorming ideas to make sure that we weren’t going to be building or creating something that just shuffled the debt,” said Van Zee. “We need to ensure that existing providers also stay in place, otherwise we won’t solve anything.”

Van Zee noted businesses in Pella have attracted global talent, but lack of childcare has made it difficult for individuals to transition into the community. Between the Pella Early Learning Center, De Kinderen Huis and Yellow Iron Academy at Vermeer, facilities are receiving two to three inquiries per day. One facility has 60 families on their waitlist.

During a community-specific event held in May, Van Zee stated three barriers for expansion were identified.

Firstly, existing facilities are at capacity. Secondly, the labor pool to staff childcare facilities is not sufficient. Lastly, the financial model is difficult at the city’s current market rates. According to Van Zee, home-based care keeps rates low.

Peterson and Van Zee’s proposal is a community childcare center, which would operate out of two separate age-focused facilities. The center would be under the umbrella of the Pella Community School District with annual financial backing from both private and public funding partnerships.

The existing Pella Early Learning Center would be renovated to provide childcare services for infants to 35 months. Three-year-olds through preschool would transition into a second facility. The school board has the option of purchasing and renovating the Pella Recreation Center or constructing a new facility to accommodate this age group.

Based on the community survey, the school district’s 2018-2028 Facility Plan has now identified an early childhood center as a high priority. The facility would also free up preschool classroom space in both Lincoln and Madison Elementary, allowing adequate space for the district’s continued growth.

Based on a facility survey conducted by Neumann Monson Architects, the total project cost of renovating the recreation center would be approximately $6 million to $8.2 million. A new 25,000 square foot facility is estimated to cost approximately $8.5 million to $10.6 million. Board members emphasized their decision would not be taken lightly.

In order to increase the childcare labor pool, Pella High School is working to partner with DMACC and Central College to help students earn Child Development Associate credentials. The program would provide paid employment during high school and would hopefully increase the number of childcare employees for long-term sustainment.

According to Van Zee, approximately $200,000 would be needed annually from private and public partnerships to keep the community childcare center operational.

“I think that doing something like this with the community is, conceptually, a fabulous idea,” said school board president Joan Corbin. “I want to be able to do it really well and use the best practices.”