Cal-Wheat day care

This artist’s rendering of the Calamus-Wheatland Elementary depicts what the new childcare wing could look like. The project is still in the design phase. Construction is expected to begin this summer.

CALAMUS – Ashley Kelting has been a Warrior all her life. She’s hoping a new project at Calamus-Wheatland Elementary School will help others say the same thing.

Kelting, Cal-Wheat’s Elementary School principal, along with other administrators and educators, is helping to develop a new early childhood center at the school expected to open in fall 2022.

In the plans is a 6,400-square-foot addition to the elementary building. The additional wing will be built onto the north and east side of the structure. Kelting said as a part of the overall project, the current media center/library will move into the new addition and the elementary school’s main entrance will also undergo a revamp that will make it more secure.

The project will cost an estimated $2.6 million and will be paid for with money-in-hand from the district’s physical plant and equipment levy, an account schools can utilize for infrastructure improvements. The district will also issue revenue bonds against its 1-cent sales tax income.

The main function of the new facility will be providing a space for daycare and after-school programming to infants all the way up to sixth-graders.

Determining the need

Childcare — to some degree — is already offered at the school.

The need for childcare in the district first materialized in 2018 in a district-wide parent survey, Kelting said. In the survey, parents indicated childcare — especially for preschoolers — was desired.

The results from that survey spurred the school’s “wrap-around” program, which is in its first year. In it, students who attend either morning or afternoon preschool can spend the other half of their day in a daycare setting. Participation in that new program has been enthusiastic, Kelting said. Of the 20 spots available in the wrap-around program, 19 are being utilized. The wrap-around program costs $250 per month.

The new building will help expand on that service and offer added daycare. It will provide childcare for at least 50 children and feature two rooms — one for infants to two-year-olds, and another for kids ages 2 to 4. Older students will also be welcome for after-school programming as well.

The daycare service will come with additional fees, which Kelting said have not been determined. She said the school will structure the pricing by age and be “modeled like other daycare centers in the area.”

The center, which will be certified by the Iowa Department of Human Services, will accept state-provided child care assistance dollars from parents who qualify.

Kelting said the district will look to hire two to three additional staff members to oversee the daycare program. The number of new hires will depend on participation.

Construction on the facility is expected to begin this summer and take place throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Kelting said the facility should be ready for students in the fall of 2022.

Attraction tool

Like many rural school districts in Iowa, Department of Education data shows Calamus-Wheatland’s enrollment is decreasing. So Kelting, a 2004 Cal-Wheat graduate, said the hope is that a facility like this will encourage parents to start — and keep — their students in the district.

“They leave because they don’t have childcare for their kids,” she said.

Kelting said the rural nature of both Calamus and Wheatland forces parents to find work in other places, and they take their kids with them to daycares in those urban areas.

“If we offer this program, childcare can be an easy way (to bring students into the district),” Kelting said. “There isn’t many (childcare centers) in our communities. They are full, and they are needing extra help.”

“I’m pretty passionate about it,” Kelting said. “I will have kids in this district, and I was raised in this district. I would like to see the district stay around, and this daycare center can be a great thing towards that.”

Nick Joos is the DeWitt Observer’s news editor.

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