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Linda's Preschool & After School Program's New Facility to Increase Child Care Capacity

Written by Kate Wolf for The Ord Quiz. Originally Published in The Ord Quiz: Wednesday, February 23, 2022, Vol. 141, No. 8

Thank you to The Ord Quiz for permission to re-publish this article on LVCI's website and for helping to share the stories of initiatives to address the important topic of childcare capacity in the Valley County area.

Most citizens of Valley County recognize the need for appropriate, available, qualified child care. It is a critical component of our area’s economic infrastructure. These days, most households require at least two paychecks in order to accommodate escalating rates of inflation as it continues to assert a negative impact on the prices of groceries, fuel, utilities and housing. Without adequate child care availability, young families will be forced to go elsewhere for jobs and services. When that begins to happen, the communities within a county begin to die, businesses close, professions suffer, schools merge, jobs disappear and the housing market collapses in a cascade effect that is difficult, if not impossible, to curtail.

Back in the fall of 2020, the Loup Valley Childhood Initiative (LVCI) completed a survey which found that five out of 12 local child care providers were planning to retire in the next three to five years, with three child care facilities already having closed within the last year. The total number of licensed child care providers in Nebraska has declined by 7.4 percent as of September 2021 and the rate is growing. These are economically frightening figures and we should all be alarmed by what these numbers portend.

On Tues., Feb. 8, the Valley County Board of Supervisors addressed the issue in a meeting with Linda and Paul Horner of Linda’s Preschool, L.L.C., accompanied by Tom Kruml and Zeb Augustyn who represent “a group of like-minded individuals dedicated to the future of Valley County.” They presented a proposal to use $400,000 in ARPA funds (American Rescue Plan Act), in addition to other financing, to construct a new child care facility, an expansion of Horner’s current private business, which is already filled to capacity.

Plans for the facility were presented with a projected cost of $1,014,985.50 on four acres of land located behind the Cobblestone Inn, with areas for safe drop-off and pick up, as well as a fenced in playground. It will have approximately 100-110 child capacity and Horner hopes to include infants, as well. The Board voted five to two in favor of awarding the $400,000 in ARPA funds to the Horner’s for the new facility.

Representatives of the Loup Valley Childhood Initiative, a nonprofit organization, were also on hand for the meeting. LVCI set out to create opportunities to support quality child care within Valley County, emphasizing support of all local child care providers. An LCVI recent survey showed a gap of 96 children ages 0—6 in Valley County who have all parents in the workforce and do not have a spot in licensed care. Family and neighbors are currently stepping in to fill this gap.

Since June of 2021, the nonprofit group has been working with an architecture firm, which specializes in child care centers, on plans to increase Valley County’s child care capacity while using undeveloped property in Ord. Several sites are under consideration. LVCI will continue its efforts to assess the evolving needs of Valley County’s child care capacity and gave its full support to the expansion of Linda’s Preschool.

“We appreciate the Board of Supervisors consideration of support to address the critical need for child care in Valley County, because we know the future of Valley County depends on it,” stated LVCI President Melani Flynn.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) appropriated $19.53 billion to states in guaranteed direct relief to cities, towns and villages based on population, low income or underserved areas of the state. The U.S. Department of the Treasury is responsible for administering this unprecedented program.

Eligible projects include: (1) Replacement of lost public sector revenue; (2) Responding to far-reaching public health and negative economic impacts of the pandemic by supporting small businesses, impacted industries, nonprofits and the public sector; (3) Investments in water, storm drainage, sewer and broadband infrastructure; and (4) Provide premium pay or bonuses for essential workers who have or will bear the greatest health risk due to their service in critical areas. Substantial flexibility is built in to these eligible use categories to meet local needs.

Statewide, more than $90 million is already ear-marked for expected distribution among qualifying child care entities. As usual with any government subsidy, complex guidelines must be followed and appropriate financial follow-up reports submitted in order to receive the second payment. Funds can be used for recruitment and retention of child care professionals, COVID-19 response supplies and equipment, goods and services necessary for children such as food, toys and playground equipment, mental health support for children and staff, and daycare facility expenses.

According to the Nebraska Association of County Officials, many counties remain undecided about how to use the ARPA windfall. The first half was disbursed in Dec. 2021 with the second half to follow in March 2022. Some counties have created a Task Force to help them determine how the ARPA funds should be allocated. Public hearings have been held in other areas to gather input. Many individuals did not know about the availability of the funds at all. Counties have until Dec.31, 2024 to allocate the funds and until the end of 2026 to actually spend them. However, the Valley County Board of Supervisors acknowledged the critical need for expanded child care in our area, hence the speed at which the determination was reached.

“Qualified child care development is an eligible investment for these ARPA funds because it is a critical component of Valley County’s economic infrastructure,” stated Valley County Board Chairman Bob Sevenker. “To keep our young people here and to attract more young people to our labor force, adequate daycare is a vital concern. In this way we provide support, not only for working parents in our area, but also for the employers upon which our local economy depends.” Supervisor Helen Cullers agreed.

“The important thing is to work together for the future of this area,” she commented. The longer it takes to build the new facility, the more costly it becomes due to rapidly escalating inflation and prices associated with construction. It is planned to build on the new site using local contractors.

Linda’s Preschool, L.L.C. has a long history of service to parents and children in Valley County. The business started 19 years ago and has grown ever since to where she is at full capacity today. She operates the only licensed child care center in Valley County and the regulations are stricter than child care offered in a family home. She has toured several facilities in other areas to see how they’re set up and to formulate a “wish list” for the expansion of her business.

“We don’t want to expand into an institution,” Horner explained. “We want to keep the same goals, the same values, the same things we’re doing here. We just want more room to do it in.”

Horner has a degree in Early Childhood Development, as does her daughter, Jenna. Her other daughter, Danielle (Horner) Lewis, has an Associate Degree in the same educational discipline. Both girls are on track to assume management of the business when Linda retires. It will be her legacy to them and to all of Valley County. It has always been a generational facility. Many of the current parents were among her daycare children in the early years and now she is caring for their kids today. She brings experience, stability, longevity and security to her investors. In addition, once the new facility is up and running, the old premises will be sold and those profits funneled into the new location.

Other members of her staff include: Courtney Shurter, employed for nine years, with an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Development and a recipient of the TEACH Scholarship; Brittney Bruha, employed 1 and a half years, with a BS in Early Childhood Development; Lauren Wragge, recently employed and currently taking Early Childhood Development classes in college; Brooklin Shaw, who has worked off and on for the past year but remains undecided about her education; and Lannette Newquist, who owns “The Board Room” and cooks for Linda’s Preschool on Mondays. Even Linda’s husband, Paul, helps with inspections and repairs whenever needed. New hiring of additional child care professionals is also part of the proposed project.

“If it weren’t for my family and staff, I couldn’t do this,” Horner explained. “I can’t take credit for it. We are a team.”

Due to the urgency of the child care situation, no time is being wasted. By Mon., Feb. 14, debris was already being removed from the proposed site and prep work was underway. The facility has a projected completion date of Oct. 2022.

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