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Warren, Minn., seeks solution to child care shortage

Grand Forks Herald - 2/14/2021

Feb. 14—Warren, Minn. — The city of Warren is aiming to build a child care center that will ease a severe shortage of daycare in the northwest Minnesota community.

The proposed $1.5 million, 10,000 square-feet center would have room for 110 children, more than double the capacity of the current Little Sprouts Learning Center in Warren. A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the Warren City Council Chambers to discuss the proposed child care center and potential sources for funding it, which include a USDA Rural Development loan.

During the past five years, the number of home day cares in Warren has dropped from 11 to four as providers retired, accepted other job positions, moved out of town or "burned out," said Shannon Mortenson, Warren's city clerk. Because of the child care shortage, families had to find alternatives such as having relatives or friends care for their children or one parent quitting a job to stay home with children.

"What it highlighted to city leaders is that, if we don't have child care in our community, people aren't going to move to Warren; they're going to go to East Grand Forks or Thief River Falls, where there are slots," Mortenson said. "It would be very hard to entice people to come here if there aren't those slots."

City council members, the Warren Economic Development Authority and others, including school district staff and home day care providers, began holding meetings in 2016 to address the shortage, gather statistics and discuss solutions, Mortenson said. In August 2019, the city applied for, and was approved, for funding from First Children's Finance based in Minneapolis to study the child care issues.. The nonprofit organization's study, completed in October 2019, showed that there was a need for 187 child care slots within a 10-mile radius of Warren, according to Mortenson.

A subsequent meeting held in Warren in February 2020 to discuss the study was attended by about 80 residents who broke into small groups to talk about solutions to the child care shortage, she said.

"One of the goals established was to build a larger day care center," Mortenson said.

The Warren city officials, EDA members and residents attending the meeting believe that a 110-capacity center, combined with Warren home day cares, will meet the needs of the community's families, she said.

Under the plan, the city would build the new child care center then lease it to Little Sprouts Learning Center, which would close its location on the north side of town and move to the new location and rent it from the city. The rent, combined with proceeds from a proposed sales tax increase, would be used to pay back the USDA Rural Development loan, Mortenson said.

City leaders have asked the Minnesota Legislature to approve a one-half cent local sales tax increase, which is projected to raise $67,000 a year, she said. If the Legislature gives its approval, Warren residents will vote whether to approve it in the next general election.

Mortenson is hopeful that the USDA Rural Development loan will be approved, and the child care center can be built to ease the community's shortage.

"We had a lot of growth in our young family population in the last decade. We're projected to continue to grow, but that projection won't continue if we don't have child care," Mortenson said.


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