United effort supports new local childcare facilities

Access to childcare in Chisholm and Ely is soon increasing, thanks to a united effort on the federal, state, county, and local level.

$1.7 million of $2.2. million has been secured to support Little Miners Learning Center in Chisholm and Happy Days Learning Center (formerly Happy Days Preschool) in Ely as the result of requests United Way of Northeastern Minnesota (UWNEMN) submitted to Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar in 2022, coupled with matching state funds from the department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation (IRRR).

“We know increasing access to childcare takes a significant investment, and the sticker shock can prohibit people passionate about childcare from opening facilities,” said UWNEMN Executive Director Erin Shay. “We are so proud to have played a role in bringing these projects to fruition and beyond grateful to everyone who made it possible – the senators for moving our request forward, everyone who supported the request including local Chambers of Commerce, local steelworkers’ unions, and the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, state and county officials for their support of these projects, and all the groups we’ve worked with since to turn this funding into childcare opportunities for local families."

In Ely, $1.2 million has been awarded to Happy Days Learning Center as work is ready to begin to renovate space in a former Minnesota Revenue Building turned Ely Area Community Foundation (EACF) building.

The center will be licensed for 46 full-time children: 12 infants, 14 toddlers, and 20 pre-school and school-aged children and will be open year-round from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm Monday through Friday.

“The Happy Days Learning Center Board is ecstatic and grateful to be receiving this funding,” said Board President Mandy Petersen. “With it, we will be able to provide our community with the affordable, high-quality childcare we so desperately need.

We are grateful to the United Way, the USDA, Senators Klobuchar and Smith, Commissioner McDonald, the EACF Board of Directors, the IRRR, the Northland Foundation, First Children's Finance, and all of those who have helped us to receive this funding. We are hopeful this new center benefits our community for generations to come.”

The EACF has selected Max Gray Construction as its general contractor, and work is ready to begin December 4, 2023. Work will include building new classrooms, a new playground, furnishings, and a commercial kitchen. Completion is expected mid-June 2024.

EACF Chair Jeff Sundell says childcare is a critical need in Ely and its surrounding communities. 

“We need a well-run childcare center to retain and attract young families in our communities,” he said. “The Ely Area Community Foundation recognizes this essential need and is working as an important part of this team to make the Happy Days Preschool & Childcare Center a reality.”

Until the new building opens, Happy Days’ pre-school program will continue out of Ely’s First Lutheran Church. The program is currently implementing Experience Early Learning curriculum which will carry over into the new center as well. Some availability for the current program remains for children ages 33 months to five years. Children must be toilet trained to attend. For more information, contact happydaysely@hotmail.com.

In Chisholm, Little Miners Learning Center development is in process. IRRR has provided $500,000 in matching funds to support project site development, and remaining funds will be applied for as pre-development progresses. The center will be licensed for 90 full-time equivalent childcare slots.