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Laura Enger, infant and toddler teacher at the Mayville State University Child Development Program day care center at the Hillsboro (N.D.) National Guard Armory, reads to Ava Smith, left, Trygg Torgerson and Gabe Enger this week at the center. Eric Hylden/Forum News Service

Hillsboro still seeking solutions following closure of community day care

HILLSBORO, N.D. - Community leaders are trying to resolve a child care services crisis created by the closing of a community day care center late last month.

The Sept. 30 closing of Main Discovery Creative Education Center left 14 families scrambling to find child care services for more than 20 children.

"There are a lot of families in temporary day care right now, wanting and hoping something will open," said Kari Cotton, a mother of three and a Main Discovery board member.

While some families have found short-term solutions--through the limited number of local in-home day care businesses, through a Mayville State University Child Development Program child care facility in Hillsboro's National Guard Armory, or with Hillsboro Public Schools, which took over Main Discovery's after-school program--the long-term implications have local officials concerned.

"It's an economic development issue for the community," said Paul Geray, Hillsboro Economic Development Corp. chairman and owner of Paul's Hometown Repair, a vehicle maintenance business.

The EDC will meet Monday to start talking about options, he said.

"We have to find out how big an issue it is," Geray said. "What's the need? And then move forward from there."

Donald Foss, Hillsboro branch manager of Dakota Heritage Bank, said one local employer lamented that Main Discovery's closing directly affected seven employees.

"We pride ourselves as a community that's only 'A cup of coffee away'," he said. "If we want people to move and work here, we need to provide essential services."

18 months and gone

Main Discovery operated in a former downtown restaurant building for about 18 months, opening in April 2013 with the help of grant funding through the Traill County Economic Development Commission.

It formed a partnership with the MSU child development program, which provided funding through a federal program. The city of Hillsboro also provided $13,000 from its city sales tax revenue, said Mark Forseth, City Commission president.

At its peak, Main Discovery served as many as 30 children, including regular day care and Burro Day Camp, a before- and after-school program at the school for K-6.

It also enrolled as many as 50 in a Discovery Summer Camp.

But the program struggled with licensing issues and financing. It also severed its ties with the MSU program in late fall 2014.

After the board raised rates by about $100 per month late this summer, it lost nearly a dozen children, Cotton said.

When it closed, child care services cost about $670 per month per child for those up to 3 three years old, or about $8,040 annually. For those older, the average cost was about $32 per day per child.

The North Dakota average annual cost of day care in centers or group facilities in 2015 is $8,396 for children 0-17 months, and $8,086 for children 18 to 35 months.

Temporary help

Hillsboro Public Schools responded to the crisis by taking over Main Discovery's after-school care program, Superintendent Paula Pederson said.

Nineteen students are enrolled in the after-school care program, with parents paying $7 per student per day, the same rate Main Discovery charged, she said.

The school district hired one person for the job by combining it with an assistant high school cook position.

Pederson said school officials will continue to evaluate the program and the cost to see if it can make it more affordable.

"Main Discovery closing affects our teachers with small children and their day care needs," Pederson said. "When they don't have family close by to assist them, they are forced to stay home or try to make other arrangements with other families in town to watch their children."

Geray said Hillsboro EDC's initial goal is to assess the scope of the issue and determine how and how quickly the community might respond.

While locals leaders say qualified, affordable child care is critical keeping and attracting workers and residents, the city is reluctant to provide financial assistance for such a project.

Forseth, Hillsboro's mayor, said the City Commission will listen to any proposals community leaders bring forward. However, he stopped short of making any commitments, noting the city's last contribution to a facility that closed after 18 months.

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