The Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation has received a grant to help start planning for a proposed childcare facility in Baker.

The Department of Commerce notified the organization Feb. 3 that it will receive a $23,978 grant from the Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund. It is on behalf of the Southeast Montana Area Revitalization Team (SMART).

According to local officials, the grant will help in completing a preliminary architectural report for the proposed childcare facility.

Beth Epley, the executive director of the Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation, said that the EMEDC covers five counties in eastern Montana. “The Eastern Montana Economic Development Corporation teamed up with the Southeast Montana Area Revitalization Team (SMART).

“SMART has been working towards seeing what we needed to build or create some sort of childcare facility that we need here in Baker.

“The BSED trust fund provides planning dollars for projects that are going to create jobs and that are going to create high-wage jobs in Montana,” she explained. “If this goes to construction, this will create a bunch of new jobs.”

Epley said that she worked together with Shanny Spang Gion, the director of SMART, on the grant proposal. “It requires either a city, county or local economic development corporation sponsor. We served as the sponsor while Shanny and I co-wrote this application,” Epley explained.

In a press release about the grant Gion stated, “With the award of this grant, SMART and EMEDA (Eastern Montana Economic Development Authority) will be able to better discern the most viable options for meeting the childcare need in our area.”

The funding will help as a feasibility study for the childcare project, according to Epley. “There is a feasibility study component to it as well as a preliminary architectural report. So hiring an architect will give multiple options – if there is an existing building in town that could be redeveloped, but also if that is not an option, then what are some land use options here in Fallon County that would also meet those needs,” she said.

Eventually, there will be a preferred alternative offered to the SMART and EMEDA board which still allows for more input from the local community, she added.

The need for childcare has already been established, Epley said. “SMART put out a survey at the beginning of this school year. And the survey came back overwhelmingly saying that this is a need in our community.”

Gion has been doing a ton of legwork on this project, Epley added.

After a series of surveys and studies, Epley said that there was an estimate of approximately 100 children who could be served by a childcare facility. “Based upon that, there are state requirements for the amount of square footage per child, depending on whether they are infants, or toddlers, that would determine the requirement for the size of the facility.

“We don’t have any licensed child care facilities in town. We have multiple people who do in-home daycare,” she explained.

Among the licensing daycare requirements are limitations on the number or children being supervised, with a certain teacher or adult to child ratio, she explained.

The approved grant will create a planning document which will go in examining the local locations along with the structure that would be needed, Epley explained.

“It is like a combination of where it is and what it is,” she said. “With that will come some preliminary cost estimates of what those options would be.”

It is also common to have a preliminary architectural report or engineering report if a project will be seeking any state or federal grant funds, Epley added. “They will want to see that you have done your research up front and that you have met all of their requirements.

“This gives us a way to do some further examinations ourselves, while still prepping for other funding options.”

The actual proposal was submitted in December.

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