crystal valley

LAKE CRYSTAL — Thanks to a group of residents and the Crystal Valley Co-op, a new early learning center will take a big chunk out of the shortage of daycare spots in the greater Lake Crystal area.

First Children’s Finance conducted a study that concluded there is a gap of approximately 95-105 children in the area without child care. Some residents first met in 2017 then formed an official non-profit in 2018 to try to address the shortage.

While the board of directors were looking at various options, without success, Crystal Valley Co-op announced it would move its headquarters to Mankato. The nonprofit and the co-ops board of directors came up with a plan to use the co-op’s current headquarters building, right off of Highway 169, as the site for Little Lakers Early Learning Center.

“It was a coincidental timing of events,” said Roger Kienholz, CEO of Crystal Valley.

The co-op is selling the building to the nonprofit, for an as yet undisclosed amount. Crystal Valley will rent a tiny part of the building for an office to be used during the fall.

After renovations that will begin after the first of the year, the center will be able to serve up to 84 kids under the age of six.

Startup is expected next spring.

Board member Dean Meixell said the chance to use the co-op building came just as the daycare group was about to give up after exhausting all other affordable options.

“Crystal Valley sent a message and wanted to talk and over several months it got more interesting,” he said.

“It’s a beautiful building. It needs some renovation but it’s not like starting from the beginning.”

A retired farmer, Meixell sees the daycare shortage from a few angles.

“A lot of grandpas and grandmas are involved in daycare. I felt very strongly about it. The other things is this will be an area, rural daycare. There are a lot of young couples trying to farm and get established and running to Mankato for daycare, it’s a lot of time on the road.”

Meixell said the group wanted to form as a nonprofit to maximize what could be offered. “We said if we’re going to do anything we’ll need to be a nonprofit, to make it as cost effective as we can for parents and to pay (staff) a decent wage.”

The group is launching a fundraising campaign to assist with start-up costs including renovations, playground equipment, curriculum, licensing and attorney fees, room furnishings as well as many additional items.

The goal of the campaign hasn’t been announced, but Meixell believes it will succeed. “It’s going to take money, no doubt about it, but it’s doable. The interest in it is really high.”

For more information or if someone would like to partner financially with the early learning center, contact Dean Meixell at 507-381-2924 or Dina Voit at 507-351-4333.

Little Lakers Early Learning Center board members include Linda Leiding, Meixell, Susan Gengler, Tom Farrell, Ryan Yunkers, Devin Moline, Dina Voit, Taylor Gronau, Linda Reid, Bryan Stading, and Don Swedberg.

Parents who would like to be added to the waiting list for the daycare should contact Devin Moline at ddpete5600@gmail.com or 507-327-7878.