The owners of two Washington County day care centers are seeking to purchase the former West School from Blair Community Schools.
On Tuesday, the Blair Planning Commission heard requests for a conditional use permit (CUP) from Jane Bouwman, owner of Little Blossoms Childcare and Preschool in Blair, and Ashley Miskowiec, owner of Education Explorers Learning Center in Arlington.
Both are seeking to open day care and preschool centers in the former school.
The BCS Board of Education Finance Committee opened the bids for the building Tuesday afternoon. However, Supt. Randy Gilson told the Enterprise the bids were given to the district's attorney, Ed Talbot, to assess. The results of the bid process will be shared at the board's regular meeting, which is 7 p.m. Monday at Deerfield Primary School.
Without knowing who the potential owner will be, the planning commission opted to table the request until its December meeting.
“I have no objections to the request in the long run,” commission member Doug Cook said. “However, I am not comfortable approving a conditional use permit because I don't think we have all the information we need.”
Commission member Henry Neef agreed.
“I think we're a little premature on this,” he said.
“It's a little unusual to have a request before you when the question of ownership is uncertain,” Assistant City Administrator Phil Green said. “But one of the potential owners felt very strongly that she wanted to move forward to get the conditional use permit process started this month because if she happens to be the one who acquires the property, she wants to be on a pretty aggressive scale as far as getting the facility open.”
Green said property is zoned residential multi-family low-density. Educational and day care centers are excepted uses that require a CUP.
Parking requirements for preschools are for 20 percent of the student population, meaning a preschool with 350 students would need 70 parking stalls. A facility with 250 students would need 50.
There are currently 48 parking stalls around the building.
Bouwman, who currently operates a facility in the Deerfield subdivision, said she plans to have space for 350 students in the new building.
“Taking over this building, I'm taking 200 children potentially with me with expanded growth,” she said.
Bouwman has a year-long wait list for her center. She said currently there are 35 children waiting.
“This would alleviate the wait list and it frees up more space,” she said.
Bouwman declined to say if she would keep her current facility in Deerfield.
“I cannot answer that in this moment in time,” she said. “The only thing I can say is if we need 550 day care spots in this town, good for us. But that's going to depend on the school and how that collaboration goes.”
BCS officials have said the district could partner and support a private preschool to provide an academic opportunity for all students who attend.
“BCS looks forward to supporting private day care programs in Blair to advance early education programs for all students,” Gilson said last month.
Miskowiec, who is a Blair kindergarten teacher, did not attend the planning commission meeting. However, she did express her desire to purchase the building at the BCS board's October meeting.
“We are passionate about coming together with the school system to better educate these children for when they come into the school system,” she said. “Our offer doesn't just stand as a child care center, but as a partnership to advocate for families and children in our community.”
Miskowiec opened Education Explorers in 2016 in the basement of the Arlington Community Church. They serve about 50 children.