Little Knights daycare building bigger in Dysart

Architectural exterior rendering of the new Little Knights Learning Center in Dysart that will be located on Clark Street west of the D-G Elementary building. The new center is slated to open ahead of the start of the 2021 fall semester. -- Image courtesy of Levi Architecture

Dysart’s only daycare service continues to move forward on a new facility project that will provide much needed space both to the daycare classes but also to the elementary classes at the Dysart-Geneseo Elementary.

Little Knights Learning Center (LKLC) conducted a town hall meeting last month to unveil a potential floor plan and architectural rendering of the new facility.

The non-profit daycare center first opened in 2018 after a survey commissioned by the Dysart Development Corporation uncovered a glaring need for daycare services in the town to Dysart.

A feasibility study was also completed around the same time which helped to illustrate the community’s overall financial ability to support a new daycare center.

An agreement was struck with the Union Community School District in 2018 to allow LKLC to locate their facility inside the D-G Elementary building on the condition that the arrangement would not be permanent in the long term.

A proposed floor plan for the soon to be constructed Little Knights Learning Center in Dysart. The daycare will expand from three classrooms to five. The exact layout is yet to be determined. -- Image provided courtesy of Levi Architecture

Earlier this year one local licensed daycare provider retired and several other in-home providers were unable to reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic. Little Knights Learning Center was then left as the only option in Dysart for families to enroll their young kids.

“Our town cannot be without a daycare. Or we probably won’t be here,” LKLC Board President Wanda Petersen said. “That’s always in the back of our board’s minds. That this needs to happen for our town and our school. If we want to keep our town and our school, we have to have a daycare.”

With incoming kindergarten class sizes swelling to higher enrollment numbers than anticipated, Union CSD was forced to ask the daycare to relocate outside the elementary to allow for another elementary class to be created.

According to Petersen a number of prospective daycare families have had to be turned away this year because the daycare is nearing full capacity.

“What we’re finding is that a family may want to bring a baby and a two-year-old and we might have room for the two-year-old but not for the baby,” Petersen said “So it’s kind of a Catch-22.”

Photo provided

With a deadline of August 2021 set before them, the Little Knights Learning Center board went to work to find not only money to fund new construction but also a location that was feasible and agreeable to multiple stakeholders.

In discussion with the Union school district, LKLC pin-pointed an open plot of land on Clark Street owned by the school. The location sits directly west of the elementary on the south side of Clark Street in what would otherwise be the 1100 block.

One of the prevailing goals for the LKLC board was to eventually locate their new facility as close to the elementary school as possible as many of the families using the daycare might also need to take kids to school.

A similar model is currently in place in Reinbeck where the Gladbrook-Reinbeck Elementary School stands within walking distance of the Little Rebels Learning Center daycare which opened in 2008.

After a lease agreement approval was given from the Union School Board to allow the daycare to occupy the property, the Little Knights Learning Center had just one hurdle left to clear ahead of ground breaking.

The city of Dysart Board of Adjustments approved a variance request on Nov. 2 for the Little Knights Learning Center to construct their new facility on the property zoned as a R-1 district.

The new stand-alone daycare building looks to increase classrooms from three to five while bumping up the overall capacity from 69 children to 85.

Currently the center employs 13 staff including 10 classroom teachers. With the construction of the new facility it is expected that the daycare will also expand its workforce, though hiring in a small labor market always presents a challenge.

With nine months remaining before Little Knights Learning Center is to vacate the D-G Elementary space, the need for funds to allow construction to begin were immediate.

The LKLC Board approached the city of Dysart and on Oct. 23 the city council unanimously approved an internal loan to the Little Knights Learning Center in the amount of $500,000 to facilitate building costs. The loan is for a term of three years with a two percent interest rate.

LKLC also secured a $100,000 loan through a revolving loan fund that Dysart’s local telephone company, Farmer’s Co-op Telephone Company (FCTC), makes available through the USDA.

FCTC further partnered with the daycare by matching a $5,000 grant received through Aureon’s Charity Grant Program.

The start-up fund of over $600,000 will allow the new facility to be built in the coming months and also additional employees to be hired to staff the larger classrooms.

According to Petersen the LKLC Board will continue to engage in local fundraising efforts as well as grant applications to help pay of the pair of start-up loans.

The board hopes to begin breaking ground as soon as possible and will make every effort to employ local contractors through the construction process.

“When we sat down to interview general contractors one of our biggest things was that they contact our local contractors first to see if they have the ability to get this job this done in the time that we need,” Petersen said. “If they say no, we totally understand that. But they need to have at least been asked so that our community feels like they’re a part of it and that we’re not just going off asking an out of town contractor to do the work. I would love nothing more than to see local signs lined up on that job site that shows our locals are a part of this.”

Assuming weather and the construction process cooperate, the LKLC Board hopes to have the new building project finished by July of next year.