Group discussing a possible downtown childcare co-op

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A group has been meeting for eight months about child care needs in the Great Falls community and met again on May 6 to discuss the possibility of establishing a child care co-op.

Scott Wolff, the Workforce Education Coalition and Director of Development at the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said the discussion started in 2020 with the chamber, Family Connections, Job Service , United Way of Cascade County and the City of Great Falls.

Jason Nitschke of the Great Falls Development Authority, said the GFDA-commissioned childcare survey revealed a “tremendous need for childcare in this community”.

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He said they were looking to serve the downtown community in particular, as there is a concentration of businesses and employees in that area.

The group said it is considering forming a co-op to enlist inner-city businesses that need childcare slots for their employees.

At the May 6 meeting, the group was comprised primarily of people from service organizations who would play an advisory role and a current child care provider.

Casey Schreiner of Alluvion Health said he wanted more business owners and employers to know about the meeting to join the conversation and potentially serve as steering committee members to establish the co-op.

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He said Alluvion is considering whether it would be better for them to participate in the cooperative process or manage the childcare themselves using an existing facility or a facility they are in the process of purchasing.

Wolff said at this point they have identified the Community Recreation Center on the 800 block of 2nd Avenue South as a possible location. The facility is owned by the city and the upstairs portion is currently available.

Wolff said he has discussed with the city a phased move-in approach to first use the upstairs area and then expand throughout the building once the city’s new indoor aquatic center opens. in Lions Park.

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Tracy McIntyre of the Montana Cooperative Development Center explained to the group the types of co-ops and the process for starting one and suggested that they create a steering committee of five to seven members to learn about starting a child care co-op. ‘children.

Nitschke said the purpose of the May 6 meeting was to identify people willing to serve on such a steering committee to move the process forward. Three people said they would be ready.

The group said it will spend the next few days updating downtown business owners and employers on their efforts in hopes of getting some to come to a meeting on May 12 to continue the discussion.

Mike McIntosh, the city’s fire marshal, said the advantage of using the recreation center is that it already has a sprinkler and fire alarm system, which means they can use more of the building for child care under the fire code.

The group considered applying for a Child Care Innovation Grant through the state, which is funded by federal COVID relief funds. The deadline for this grant application is June 10.

During the meeting, several mentioned that they knew potential employees who could not accept jobs due to lack of childcare options or employers who could not fill needed positions due to lack of childcare services.

Chuck Anderson, deputy city manager, said child care has come up in their collective bargaining and city employees have also expressed a need for more child care options.

For more information or to join the conversation about a downtown child care co-op, contact Scott Wolff at swolff@GreatFallsChamber.org.

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