A breakneck, work-in-progress partnership between the Community Day Care Center and Kansas Children’s Service League meant to be a possible alternative to families losing service at the center’s Eighth Street location this week did not come to fruition after the center’s board determined the proposal was not financially viable.

“I think each entity, I can safely say, has invested a lot of time processing things, thinking about things, trying to find options, and it’s not an outcome that we would have hoped for. We would love to see this facility stay open if we had been able to find a viable option,” said Stacie Hahn, the CDCC board vice president. “And we know that this is stressful for the community as a whole for a variety of reasons, but all parties have taken their time trying to find a solution, and we haven’t taken it lightly what this is going to be doing to the community as a whole.”

Last month, the CDCC told parents and staff that the Eighth Street location, an older building facing persistent maintenance and enrollment issues, would close on Feb. 8 due to financial struggles. The abrupt announcement was a surprise to families and staff members, who said they did not realize the center’s situation was so dire.

Less than two weeks later, board members met several dozen parents, staff and community members to answer questions about the closure and the center’s plans for the future. Near the end of the meeting, KCSL Head Start and Early Head Start Director Christie Reed told those in attendance that the KCSL, CDCC and Finney County Economic Development Corp. were in talks to reach an agreement between the two childcare-centric organizations that would open up more classroom space for Head Start and Early Head Start and accommodate Eighth Street center families.

At the time, she said families should continue looking for alternative care options, but the organizations were hopeful to have slots available for families by or shortly after the Eighth Street closing date.

The day after the meeting, the deal became more complicated, Reed said in January. A contractor’s inspection of the Eighth Street location confirmed that it was in need of air conditioning and other interior updates and would “take a significant investment” to be viable, Reed said then.

The investment ultimately became part of the KCSL’s proposal to the CDCC, said Lona DuVall, president and CEO of the FCEDC. If the CDCC could eventually cover potentially more than $80,000 in renovations and repairs to the building, the KCSL could use some of its programming funding to assist with childcare costs for both Head Start and Eighth Street children at the location, she said.

After consideration, the CDCC board ultimately declined the proposal, saying it was not financially viable for an organization already struggling with money, Hahn said.

On Feb. 1, the board sent a letter to parents saying that they could not reach an agreement to keep the location open at this time and Eighth Street will still close on Friday has originally planned.

“(The offer) didn’t work out, but certainly not because everybody wasn’t willing to look at it. It wasn’t because people weren’t willing to try to work together, just simply, apparently, it was not something (the CDCC) board felt was workable long-term,” DuVall said.

On Tuesday, KCSL President and CEO Dona Booe said in an emailed statement that KCSL had hoped to work with the CDCC to help children and families affected by the Eighth Street closure, but “an immediate remedy has not been identified.”

The organization is still interested in discussing long-term solutions to expand local childcare services, but in the meantime, families could contact Child Care Aware of Kansas to find a listing of available, licensed services, Booe said in the statement.

Reed declined to comment and referred back to Booe’s statement and KCSL Communications.

The FCEDC will continue to research childcare options for local families, DuVall said.

“We want the parents to understand and we want the community to understand that this is extremely important to us, and we recognize that it’s a huge challenge for parents. We certainly don’t want them to think that it doesn’t matter because it absolutely matters to us. And we do want people to know that we’re going to continue working on it until we find solutions that can be long-term and sustainable,” DuVall said.

The CDCC may work with the KCSL on other projects in the future, Hahn said, but the board has moved on to reviewing other options for Eighth Street. She said other local entities and individuals have inquired about the building, and the board is still pursuing plans to retain some kind of daycare service at the location, as well as other options. The discussions are still preliminary, she said.

In the meantime, Eighth Street moves steadily to its closing date, said site manager Sarah Burtis. She said about 20 of the 44 children remain at the location, about 10 of which the board approved to transfer to its remaining campus on College Drive, Hahn said. Most of the families of the other 10 are still searching for care, Burtis said.

Hahn said three of the 15 staff members accepted jobs at College Drive, but she did know how many had been offered positions.

Staff members are trying to focus more on the time they have left with the kids than the moving parts behind the scenes, Burtis said.

In the final two days, they may bring the smaller number of children together in a central location, Burtis said. On the last day, they’ll bring donuts and pizza and maybe sit together to watch a movie as a group. Something memorable, she said.

“It’s going to be a really, really hard day for all of us. We’re going to try to make the best of it…” Burtis said. “We’re going to all spend time together with the kids and make the best of our last day.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.