By SARA MILLHOUSE
With an eye to the future, Maquoketa is considering opening an early childhood education center, including preschool from age 3, wraparound childcare before and after school, and possibly daycare from birth.
Such a move could require shifting grades and adding on to existing buildings — if the school district turned the current Cardinal Elementary into its early childhood center.
No formal actions have been taken. Board members only discussed the ideas.
School board discussion about 18 months ago led to speculation about closing one of the district’s four buildings. But in the most likely scenarios discussed during a district facilities meeting Oct. 9, each of the district’s four buildings would keep kids in the halls.
The outdated open floorplan at Cardinal could be a benefit for serving younger children, in the words of Cardinal Elementary Principal Caleb Bonjour. He said finding care for his own child was a challenge when his family moved to Maquoketa.
Private preschools and daycare providers, as well as smaller Jackson County school districts, provide local options. But across Iowa, families are often hard-pressed to find childcare. A year ago, the Iowa Women’s Foundation estimated the state was short about 350,000 childcare slots.
“It’s the world we live in,” said school board member David Sybesma. “It’s a no-brainer.”
Giving families an option for childcare from the get-go could keep more kids going to Maquoketa schools down the road. Once a young child is in a system with familiar classmates and routines, their family is more likely to stay in that system for kindergarten and beyond.
School board member Mary Herring said that an early childhood education center was something “we’ve tossed around as long as I’ve been on the board.” However, district officials previously imagined building a new facility, which they said could be cost-prohibitive.
Martin Gardner Architecture gave rough estimates of $15 million to $20 million to build a new kindergarten through fifth-grade building. A junior high addition to the high school could tentatively cost a tenth of that: $1.35 million to $1.5 million. Adding additional restrooms at Briggs might cost several hundred thousand dollars, according to the architect.
On Oct. 9, school board and facilities committee members also considered the pros and cons of various grade divisions amongst Briggs, Maquoketa Middle School and Maquoketa High School.
Briggs Elementary principal Pat Bollman thinks the best way to divide K-12 in three buildings would be to educate kindergarten through third-graders at Briggs, fourth through sixth-graders at the middle school, and seventh through 12th-graders at the high school. Doing so would require a high school addition, and possibly an addition at Briggs.
At 5 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16, pending availability, the school board and facilities committee will talk to a financial representative about how much the district could borrow from their 1-cent sales tax to fund such additions.
Barely discussed Oct. 9 was a proposal from FFA alumni for an ag learning center at the high school. If junior high was added to the high school, no one yet knows where on the campus that might be built.