This bright sign hangs outside the Children's Center building. Photo/Angela Denning

This bright sign hangs outside the Children’s Center building. Photo/Angela Denning

The Petersburg Children’s Center is expanding through volunteer efforts. The daycare and preschool has had a long waiting list for years. As Angela Denning reports, this expansion will help more kids get the care they need.
When a working woman gets pregnant in Petersburg she is often told by her friends to put her baby on the Children’s Center’s list before it’s even born. Right now there are 59 kids on the waiting list. Parents often have to wait a year to get their kids enrolled.

Eventually the word spread in town and volunteers stepped forward. Bob Lynn is a Petersburg Borough Assembly Member.

“I’ve been contacted and stopped by a number of young folks who need daycare here in town,” Lynn said. “Both parents have to work or need to work and obviously there needs to be someplace for that period of time that there is childcare available. What this project’s all about is being able to help take care of some of that need.”

The expansion project adds two classrooms to the west side of the building which would allow 18 more kids into the center. The project’s estimated price tag is less than $100,000.

The labor is all volunteer on nights and weekends. Local businesses donated services to get supplies shipped in at cost. Borough Assembly Member Kurt Wohlheuter along with Larry Young and Reed Brothers Construction put the pilings in over a weekend. The foundation is finished and the outer shell is now going up.

Workers and the center’s board of directors think getting more physical space is the best solution. The center is a state-licensed private non-profit and follows State of Alaska guidelines which set class sizes. The center employs 11 full time workers and four part-time.

As for the funding, that’s a work in progress, according to Glorianne Wollen, another lead volunteer in the project. Through local donations alone, they have collected $47,000, about half of their goal.

“Which is fabulous! I mean that is just so cool, the outpouring,” Wollen said. “I think our first $10,000 came from the Petersburg Economic Development Commission and they saw it as an economic opportunity and the rest are just people that have an affiliation with the facility but also have a great love for community.”

Kurt Wohlheuter was also impressed with the donations.

“$47,000 already, I mean that’s great,” he said. “It just shows how much love there is in this community for these sort of projects. I mean this is the way we used to do things in this community is that everybody used to rally around each other and get behind each other, like a barn raising and we just don’t have the money anymore. Money’s just not coming down from Uncle Ted or anybody else anymore from back in Washington or down from Juneau.”

Although the addition will soon be finished the volunteers are wanted to do more than just provide a functioning space. They’re also looking at grant opportunities for a sprinkler system and a heating system, issues that were discovered when construction started on the older building, according to Lynn.

“The electrical, the water, the sewer and so forth has to tie into an existing system and the farther we got into this we found that some things that both underneath the building and inside really need to be changed,” Lynn said. “For instance, when you look at the kitchen and you look at the bathrooms in there under the other part we would really like down the road here to be able to replace everything that’s in there and simply redo everything. The carpeting’s old, the heating system’s old. When I looked at the boiler I went back and looked on-line to see whether I could replace it, it’s not even available anymore.”

Some of that work will require contractors but the improvements would likely save the center in operating costs.

Wollen said Petersburg needs the best building it can provide.

“We need an ideal place for our children of our community,” Wollen said. “These mothers are going off to work and I can’t imagine the stress that is on their every day when they’re worried about where their kids are and you want a safe environment and we can do that. We can provide that for the children of Petersburg.”

Despite challenges with the building, the staffing is quality. Last year, two of the teachers were named the best preschool teachers in Southeast from the National Association for Education of Young Children.

The Children’s Center cares for 45 children ages six weeks to prekindergarten. The center also runs an after school program for kids kindergarten through sixth grade called Eagle’s Nest. There are 24 children in that program with a waiting list as well.

The volunteers are looking for more help, especially those with carpenter skills, said Wohlheuter.

“If there’s anybody out there that’s got a weekend free that wants to come up and swing a hammer, you don’t need to call me, just show up at the Children’s Center. We should be there,” he said. “We’d sure appreciate all the help we can get.”

The Children’s Center has been in Petersburg for decades. The daycare-preschool celebrated its 40th anniversary this year.