LIBERTYVILLE – Residents of Libertyville are crossing their fingers that they will soon have a child care center capable of housing more than 100 kids.
The child care center will be in the former Libertyville Elementary School, which the city of Libertyville purchased from the Fairfield Community School District for $1 in 2018 after the district had closed the school the year before.
A group of volunteers renovated the school in the summer of 2018, hoping to open it as a child care center that fall. Unfortunately, there was more work than they realized, and the opening has been delayed for going on 10 months from the original schedule.
However, Libertyville Child Care director Julie Meir is confident that the Libertyville Child Care Board overseeing the project really does have all its ducks in a row this time, and hopes the center will open for business perhaps as early as later this month.
Last fall, the child care appeared ready to open, needing only a state fire marshal inspection. But the building was not up to code; it needed a sprinkler system and new fire alarms. Meir said the child care board spent the winter months installing those two systems, which are done. Now she is waiting on a Department of Human Services inspection, which involves criminal background checks on all the employees who plan to work at the child care center.
It might seem odd that the building was not up to code since it was serving young children as an elementary school just two years ago. Meir said the Iowa Department of Education has different safety standards from the Department of Human Services, so arrangements that were fine under the school are unacceptable for serving the very young children who attend a day care.
Despite the delay, Meir has been able to maintain child care services in Libertyville, just not at the former school. She is running a registered home day care at a duplex in town, but since it’s registered as a home and not a center, it can only accommodate a smaller number of children. Meir said she has about nine to 10 kids who frequently use the home day care.
Upon the opening of Libertyville Child Care in the former school, Meir hopes to have 30-40 children signed up, with a staff of eight to 10. She wants to start off small and grow gradually. If the business goes well, the building could hold up 110 children from 6 weeks of age to 12 years.
The Libertyville Child Care board consists of Rod Nelson, Jeff Proctor, Larry Cook, Jon Miller and Deb Moore, who replaced Ben Picard. Bev Nelson is secretary ex-oficio. Picard is no longer involved in the project, even though he was the driving force behind the idea of converting the former school into a child care center. Picard did not return a request for comment by press time.
In January 2018, Picard submitted a proposal to convert part of the building into a child care and the other part into a series of offices. He sought to use the four rooms on the west side of the building as hotel suits, and to use the loft of the school as a workout area with 24/7 access. The building was to be known as Libertyville Element Center, and the child care center known as GravityNext. In October, the child care board changed the name of the day care to Libertyville Child Care.
Day care was chosen as the main business for the building because it is a service the county badly needs. Tammy Wetjen-Kesterson of Early Childhood Iowa said last fall that Jefferson County was short 589 child care spaces.
During the summer of 2018, carpets in the building were replaced and the interior was repainted. Board members had to remove the white boards in the classrooms because their erasure holders, fine for older elementary students, were a hazard for the young kids who would use the rooms because they were at eye-level. They also had to fill in the holes left behind when the white boards were removed, so kids wouldn’t be tempted to stick their fingers inside.
The board is trying to get as much use out of the building as it can. It rents the gymnasium and kitchen for private parties, and will continue to do so after-hours when children are not at the center. Meir said the building hosted a few graduation parties earlier this year.
Meir said the board has not pursued Picard’s vision for the rest of the building besides the child care portion on the east side. As for the four rooms on the newest side of the building, the west side, Meir said the board would need to work with the state fire marshal on installing proper emergency exits and making them accessible to the public.