Manhattan Day Care and Learning Center, a fixture in the community for decades, closed its doors for good last month. It has left many residents wondering what happened.
The center provided early childhood care and education for low- to moderate- income families for 42 years. Each year was different, but the center typically served infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers year round at its main facility located at First United Methodist Church, an additional space at First Christian Church and, more recently, a space at the Douglass Community Center. At its peak, it provided 56 spots for Manhattan children. The center had agreements with the churches for the spaces and an agreement with the city for the Douglass Center space.
Lauren Palmer, assistant city manger, said the center closed its operations on May 31.
The center ran into problems that are prevalent among child care facilities—increasing demand and decreasing funding. Bruce Snead, vice president of the Manhattan Day Care board, said there was “a cascade of events over the course of about a year plus, which had financial implications.”
“These types of things have been chronic issues with child care,” Snead said.
This year, the center did not receive funding from the city when the Social Services Advisory Board declined to make a recommendation to the City Commission. It also lost funding from United Way of Riley County. Snead characterized the losses as a “couple of key financial blows.” Although the city did not provide funding in 2012, Palmer noted that in 2008 the City Commission approved a $100,000 grant to the center to be paid in three equal installments in 2009, 2010 and 2011. This was in addition to social services funding, which ended in 2011.
The loss of funding came at an unfortunate time. First United Methodist Church had been planning to start its own education program and needed the space occupied by the center. Snead said that’s not to disparage the church, which was a “gracious host” for many decades. The center was forced to look for a new location, though.
Snead and Shelly Williams, president of the day care center’s board, said the city assisted the center in looking for a new home in Manhattan’s industrial park. There were plans for Farrar Corporation, located in the park, to transfer land for the facility. In return, the city would have forgiven the final installment of Farrar’s forgivable loan. The ambitious project envisioned a $4 million facility that would have provided care for 120 Manhattan children.
But the nine-member board had difficulty leveraging the necessary funds for the facility. Snead said the resources to sustain such a facility would be substantial and an entity such as the city would most likely have to contribute. He said there was community support, but the project was just too much for the board to handle.
“We didn’t make enough progress in a variety of areas,” Snead said.
Williams believes it contributed in part to the loss of funding. She said Manhattan Day Care hadn’t made much progress on the design when the center was applying for funds. The center also was being run by an interim director at the time. With no long-term facility or director in place, it’s not entirely surprising the center lost funding.
The loss of financial support and inability to secure a new space inevitably resulted in a reduction of services. Williams said the board started closing classrooms last fall. The day care and learning center was finally reduced to the Douglass Center site with about 16 slots for about the last six months
Williams said the board notified parents on April 15 that they would need to find alternative child care options. She said the board worked closely with USD 383 and put together application packets for the district’s at-risk child care program.
“We also gave the families information on how to access child care in the community,” Williams said.
The closure certainly has implications beyond reduced child care availability. Williams said it also affects other areas such as employment and health care. Snead and Williams noted that the closure will affect the center’s 20 full-time staff members. Snead said many were long-time employees who were highly dedicated to child care.
“They had families, as well,” Williams said.
The decision was challenging for everyone involved.
“It was very, very difficult and emotional for the board,” Williams said. “We struggled with the decision for several months.”
Ultimately, Snead said it was something done with great thought but also great regret.