MANKATO — The city of Mapleton is set to get a longtime day care facility back in play, thanks to the Blue Earth County Board.
Commissioners approved $35,000 in a forgivable child care loan Tuesday to reopen the Child Care Center of Mapleton this fall. The center will be run by its former nonprofit, but the city and Maple River Public Schools will cover costs and staffing.
The school district has taken over the 3- and 4-year-old slots since the center closed in 2016. The city hopes to fund staff and startup costs for infants and toddlers, which Mayor John Hollerich said will mean 28 open slots for area families.
"Adding child care in our city is a big driver to bringing people to live in our city," Hollerich said.
A 2017 study commissioned by the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation found Mapleton needs about 100 child care slots to keep up with local demand. Local officials say the three or four in-home day care providers are already full.
Hollerich acknowledged reopening the center, which began in 1970, wouldn't solve the city's child care issues but would help address the gap in child care access.
"Operating cost-wise, there's not a lot to do since the building is there, the toys are still there, the equipment is there," he said. "We're just excited to get that labor force aspect of it ready to go."
Mapleton isn't alone in its child care needs. The Mankato-based Center of Rural Policy and Development found Greater Minnesota lost more than 15,000 spots for children at child care businesses between 2006 and 2016. The majority of these losses came from in-home providers. Greater Minnesota still needs to make up about 35,000 spots to meet demand.
Blue Earth County lost about 70 child care providers between 2011 and 2018. Minnesota went from about 11,500 to fewer than 8,500 child care providers during the past decade.
Hollerich told the board the school district will help manage the facility, which had issues in the past keeping staff. And Mapleton's Economic Development Association plans to contribute $10,000 annually. The city plans to kick in $20,000 over the next three years to cover operating costs.
Local officials hope the child care center will pay for itself. They plan to review the center's financial stability in 2021.
"If anybody can pull this off, it's Mapleton," Commissioner Kip Bruender said.