A ribbon cutting ceremony was held July 12 to announce Williamsburg Child Care Center (W4C’s) North, an expansion of a center also located in Williamsburg.
The approximately 9,000-square-foot center, located in the corner of Outlets Williamsburg, will have seven classrooms and a capacity of 162 kids. There are 88 child slots open, meaning the overall capacity of W4C’s is increasing by 54%.
“This is huge, not just for our community but for Iowa County,” said Kristie Wetjen, general manager of Outlets Williamsburg. “One of the biggest struggles with people being able to work is to have someone watch their children.”
The project is a partnership between W4C’s, Outlet Williamsburg, Bayer Williamsburg and Compass Memorial Healthcare. A $406,888 grant received through Future Ready Iowa Child Care Challenge and Investing in Iowa’s Child Care Grant is going toward the plan. Approximately $700,000 in grants and $350,000 in private investments was dedicated to the project.
Bayer Williamsburg reached out to the child care center about adding more child care slots, as they have many families looking for quality child care, Ms. Wetjen said. Since their facility was at full capacity, the center contacted Outlets Williamsburg to see if they would entertain a child care facility in their mall.
Iowa has not been spared by a child care crisis in recent times, leading Governor Kim Reynolds to allocate federal American Rescue Plan Act funds toward a $25 million Child Care Business Incentive Grant Program in May.
According to the governor’s office, Iowa has lost 33% of its child care businesses over the last five years. Research from the Iowa Women’s Foundation has shown that 24% of Iowa communities reside in a child care desert.
This project will increase capacity for child care in Iowa County by 14%.
“That is something a lot of rural counties can’t say,” she added. “They just don’t have that happening.”
Bringing in tenants that are not retail-focused to the outlet mall, although unorthodox, was an intentional decision.
“Even before COVID-19, we realized that what we were doing here is not sustainable,” she said. “Retail is changing. We were already looking at a redevelopment plan that included more daily uses and traffic. A child care center fit perfect into our plans.”
A farm equipment dealership will be coming to the mall in a further push to diversify from purely retail stores, and other spaces are available for individuals seeking office workspace.
The child care facility will also include an outdoor green space consisting of playground equipment. Child care centers are required maintain green space dedicated for the facility.