PORT ANGELES — Clallam and Jefferson counties each will by 2025 have something families, schools, businesses and the community desperately want: high-quality, affordable and accessible child care.
The Olympic Peninsula YMCA is constructing two facilities — one in Port Angeles and the other in Port Townsend — that will put a small but meaningful dent in the lack of child care CEO Wendy Bart said has had a negative impact on the two counties.
“Even before the pandemic, both Clallam and Jefferson county were considered childcare deserts, which means there’s a significantly greater demand and need for child care than there is available,” said Bart, who made presentations to the Port Angeles Noon Rotary on Wednesday and the Port Angeles Kiwanis on Thursday.
Without child care, people cannot return to work, employers cannot find staff and children miss out on developing social skills, learning tools that prepare them for kindergarten and being exposed to new experiences and activities, she said.
“It is critical to child development and also critical to our economy,” Bart said. “This is our wheelhouse. We’ve been doing child care since the late ’70s.”
Bart said that, on an annual basis, 2,900 employees on the North Olympic Peninsula with children younger than 6 quit their jobs due to challenges related to child care, and 1,400 employees with children younger than 6 are fired for child-related issues such as being late for work, having to leave work early or not showing up at all.
“That has implications for all of us,” she said. “If you’ve gone to a business and the doors closed and they say we’re not open today because we don’t have enough staff, that’s part of the ripple effect.”
The projects in Clallam and Jefferson counties will progress simultaneously, starting with design approval this summer, construction beginning in spring 2024, completion expected in winter 2024, and the facilities opening in March 2025.
While both will offer child care for infants to 5-year-olds, the two facilities are slightly different in their organization and scope of their services.
The $2.9 million Port Townsend Early Learning & Family Support Center is a partnership among the YMCA, the Port Townsend School District, Jefferson Healthcare, Jefferson County, the City of Port Townsend and Peninsula College.
The 4,000-square-foot facility will be constructed on a 1.6-acre site located on the southeast corner of the Port Townsend High School campus. It will have a full-size commercial kitchen to prepare meals for delivery to 100 families, and it will offer support services to more than 250 families.
The YMCA does not have any partners for its Port Angeles facility, which will offer only child care for 50 families and 96 children. It has raised $2,885,750 to construct a building on three adjacent lots it owns next to its branch on South Francis Street.
Bart said developing a sustainable business plan was essential for the two facilities to be a success.
“If you’re thinking about trying to make child care affordable for families, you’re almost never able to cover your costs based on what is affordable to a family,” Bart said. “When you’re talking about infant or toddler care, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $1,400 a month.
“So, the goal is to make it as affordable as possible, and in order to do that, we are going to have to rely on private philanthropy to support the cost of operating the facility.”
She estimated that about 30 percent of the families also would receive some kind of subsidy to help pay for care.
Bart said the YMCA anticipates hiring 25 child care professionals between the two sites and shared the challenge other employers on the Peninsula faced in accomplishing this: trying to find workers who must also be licensed with the state.
“Just like we developed a child care strategy, we’re also looking at a workforce development strategy because we know we’re going to have to look at doing things a little bit differently to get the workforce we need,” Bart said.
She said the YMCA had conversations with Peninsula College’s Early Childhood Education Program about creating a pipeline of professionals who would be ready when the new facilities opened.
Bart also would like to reach out to local high schools to perhaps create opportunities for students interested in careers in child care or early childhood education.
“I will tell you that it is one thing to create child care spots, it’s another to staff them,” Bart said.
Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at email@example.com.
Terry Ward, publisher of the Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum, serves on the Olympic Peninsula YMCA board of directors.