YMCA to build childcare facility

$1-2M still needed for $6.7M project

PORT ANGELES — The Olympic Peninsula YMCA is seeking an additional $1 million to $2 million for a new early learning center in Port Angeles that would serve more than 90 children.

“We’re probably looking for between $1.5 million to $2 million,” CEO Wendy Bart said. “We want to close the gap so we can do everything that we want to do with this facility.”

The YMCA already has raised more than $5 million for the project, which will be located at 717, 723, 725 E. Fourth St. near the existing YMCA building on property already owned by the organization. The project is estimated to cost about $6.7 million, but Bart said she hopes to raise up to $7.4 million for a facility with the most amenities possible.

“I want this facility to be the premiere, most inviting, welcoming, supportive, nurturing facility anywhere,” Bart said Tuesday, speaking during the Port Angeles Business Association meeting at Joshua’s Restaurant.

“I want people to be talking about, ‘You know what, if you’re thinking about where to move with your young family, go to Port Angeles, because they have the best child care facilities,’” Bart said.

Once completed, the center will have spots for up to 96 children including up to eight infants (0-11 months); 28 toddlers (12-29 months); 60 preschoolers (3-5 years) and employ 15 full-time-equivalent positions. Bart said she hopes the project will break ground in July.

Of the $5,025,750 already raised, $2,950,000 came from state grants, $500,000 from Clallam County, $500,000 from the M.J. Murdoch Charitable Trust, $465,000 from YMCA designated funds, $250,000 from the City of Port Angeles, $155,750 from the YMCA’s Board of Directors, $150,000 from United Way of Clallam County and $55,000 from the Benjamin N. Philips Memorial Fund.

Bart said the YMCA is seeking federal grant funding from the office of U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Seattle, and it is preparing a public fundraising campaign to bring in the remaining funds.

The North Olympic Peninsula was in need of childcare spaces before COVID-19, but Bart said the pandemic made things worse with up to 25 percent of the childcare providers lost, either temporarily or permanently.

The state Department of Children, Youth and Families tracks early learning and childcare needs, and it estimates that only 23 percent of the childcare need for ages 0-5 is being met in Clallam County and 16 percent in Jefferson County.

“Child care is extremely expensive,” Bart said. “It’s expensive to provide and it’s expensive to receive.”

The state has strict construction requirements for childcare facilities, Bart said, and that’s one of the reasons the YMCA chose to construct an entirely new facility rather than renovate an existing building. There are also certain requirements for employees that can be barriers to hiring even as childcare workers are in the bottom third percentile nationally in terms of professional wages.

“The licensing requirements are the equivalent of someone who is in education, someone who might be a paraeducator or a teacher in the school district,” Bart said. “And you can go there and make more money and have better benefits.”

Washington has subsidy programs for childcare, but the current rates only reimburse about 47 percent of the cost of care, Bart said. The state has expanded its eligibility for childcare subsidies and is increasing reimbursement rates, but funding quality childcare is still a challenge, she said.

Bart said the YMCA expects about 30 percent of participants in the early learning center will be on state subsidy, and that ongoing operations for the center will rely on private philanthropy.

“We will continue to have built into that business model private philanthropy to support the ongoing operations,” Bart said. “I believe that to be feasible in this community. That, in order to make it work, there will need to be an arm of private philanthropy.”

Bart noted the YMCA includes private philanthropy into all its funding plans, not just for the Port Angeles early learning center.

Despite the challenges they create, Bart said the state’s requirements are necessary to ensure quality care is provided at licensed facilities.

“There are reasons why we want our facilities to be high quality and very safe so all the requirements are designed around ensuring we provide quality care and safe care,” she said.

Community groups need to work together to help build a childcare workforce and supporting programs, she said.

“We have to invest in the childcare ecosystem and I’m not just talking about licensed child care,” Bart said. “I’m also talking about family, friend and neighbor care. I’m talking about non-licensed programs that are high-quality programs.”

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsulanews.us.

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