In a 3-1 vote, the Garden City Commission agreed last week to devote funds to a loan to purchase and renovate the former Homestead long-term care facility on Third Street, moving the project past a crucial step.

In June, the Finney County Economic Development Corp. presented a possible location, the former Homestead rehabilitation facility located on North Third Street, for two developing projects: the technical skills education hub, Great Plains MakerSpace, and the base for the budding Finney County Childcare and Early Learning Network. The former portion would act as a child care center that could potentially offer day, evening and overnight care to about 80 to 85 kids.

It would cost about $200,000 to purchase the building and about $400,000 to remodel it for both projects.

The ball was then left in the court of the FCEDC’s stakeholders, Garden City, Finney County and Garden City Community College, to determine whether they wanted to be involved and help fund the project. One of the stakeholders would ultimately own the building, not the network.

The city commission decided last week to communicate to the Finney County Commission their support for using joint city and county funds already budgeted for economic development projects to pay for the building and renovations, in part or in whole, in the form of a loan. The money would be paid back in monthly increments by the MakerSpace and child care center once they were operational.

The funds in question would come from a $1.5 million joint fund to which Finney County and the City of Garden City both contribute money for economic development projects. The Finney County Commission determines how to spend the money.

After the county uses the fund to carry out an upcoming $950,000 project on Farmland Road, the FCEDC suggested using all or a portion of the remaining funds — $550,000 — for the MakerSpace and child care projects, both of which have economic development value, said Lona DuVall, FCDC president.

Commissioner Troy Unruh said constituents had reached out to him about the two projects, one to be used primarily by adults and another hosting children, being so close to each other, as well as potential issues with the building, such as a broken boiler system. He asked whether devoting $600,000 toward the project was a responsible move as lawmakers, or whether the commission should consider supporting the local child care industry in other ways.

DuVall said that the MakerSpace facility and child care facility would be completely separate with full firewall protection — the only go-between would be a connecting hallway not open to the public. She was confident the renovation estimates would cover existing issues with the building, though contractors still need to perform a contaminant survey.

The FCEDC could seek funding solely from private companies, DuVall said, but it’s a matter of timing. The building is available now, she said, while renovations to most other vacant buildings in town, including the recently closed Community Day Care Center on Eighth Street, would cost far more to meet state standards.

Commissioner Lindsey Byrnes said she believed it was the commission’s role to subsidize or support local child care options.

“If there was a natural disaster, that would be a no-brainer. We’d be right there. For a lot of families, not having child care is a natural disaster,” Byrnes said. “I do think it’s an economic development issue and I think it’s a service that we provide to our community as much as and as valuable as some of the other services.”

The commission could support the project by budgeting a grant, loan or a combination of the two in upcoming city budgets, do the same with the joint economic development funds, pending approval from the county commission, or could take no action. Commissioner Shannon Dick, a strategic analyst at the FCEDC, recused himself from the discussion and vote.

The commission’s first vote — one to indicate support for using the joint funds for a combination grant and loan for the project — failed 2-2, with Byrnes and Commission Dan Fankhauser voting in favor and Unruh and Commissioner Roy Cessna voting against. A second vote to use the joint funds for a loan for the project passed 3-1, with Unruh voting against it.

It wasn’t the only mention of child care centers at the meeting — Tim Fields, pastor of Garden City’s Church of the Nazarene, approached the commission during public comment. The church is ready to open a new, 89-slot child care center on its campus, he said, but needs help to offer competitive wages to a site director. An investment of $48,000 would hopefully make that possible, he said. Fankhauser said the commission will consider the proposal.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.