The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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September 30, 2013

Hinton to open city-run day care

Mayor says facility will benefit families and city’s economy

HINTON — One small town is using city government to benefit the next generation.

Officials of Hinton, which had a population of 2,676 in 2012, plan to open a city-operated day care center this year.

“People need day care,” said Hinton Mayor Joe Blankenship. “We don’t presently have a day care here in Hinton.”

Plans are currently in the process of being approved by the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

Blankenship said the day care will benefit the community, contribute to economic growth and also allow the city to utilize empty space in the Hinton Technology Center.

“We’ve got to enhance revenue,” said the mayor. “You’ve always got to find ways of making money.”

When U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd died, military spending increased and federal funds that had been directed into a technology center that the city owns dwindled.

One technology company left the building, and WorkForce West Virginia leased space at the building before changing locations.

“We have here in Hinton a long-term debt on the tech center, and short-term leases,” said Blankenship. “That doesn’t mix too well.”

City council leased empty office space to a Beckley doctor and placed a state-of-the-art fitness center in the building, but Blankenship and city manager Cris Hall were still looking for ways to pay city debt last year when they began looking for a community service the town could provide.

That’s when they realized their town had a child care void.

Rural areas in the state are facing a child care crisis, according to a 2010 report by National Association of Childcare Resource and Referral Agencies.

Because parents are poorer in rural regions, they’re less likely to be able to afford child care. This leads to child care not being a profitable business for rural providers.

One result is that working parents in rural counties have fewer licensed child care choices than those in urban areas.

There are also fewer quality programs operating in rural regions, according to the report, because parents must settle for the lower quality programs.

Blankenship said strict government regulations on child care operations had led a private day care provider in the town to close — leaving working parents with the choice of quitting work or relying on family members or private sitters who may not be licensed.

Quality child care options for workers are a drawing point for company officials who are looking for a place to open businesses and are necessary for town economic growth, Blankenship said.

“We felt we could possibly better handle (a day care center) than a private enterprise,” he said. “We wish it was a private enterprise putting in a day care center, but that is not the case.”

City council members approved the plan, which was developed largely by Hall, in 2012, said Blankenship.

An architect has designed the day care, which will feature a play room, kitchen, bathroom and office space.

A playground will also be available, and Blankenship added that the city may look into adding private and secure web-browsing options for parents, so they can check on their children remotely.

The fire marshal is currently examining the plan, and bidding is expected to begin on construction once the fire marshal approves it, he said.

The original plan was to open the child care center in October or November, but the center may open in around 90 days, once construction is complete.

Blankenship added that, despite the burden strict regulations put on child care providers, parents may appreciate the high governmental standards.

“I guess when you’ve got people that are keeping your kids and handling your kids and your families, you need regulations,” he said. “I know government bogs you down with regulations, and this type of industry isn’t any different.

“I’m certainly not complaining about this, because I’m sure this (day care) would probably be keeping my grandkids as well,” added Blankenship. “You want to make sure it’s run right, and they’re well-fed and looked after.

“When you drop your kids off ... you want to make sure they’re safe and getting proper foods and proper exercise.”

Although Blankenship did not have official statistics, he said he wasn’t aware of any other small municipalities in the state operating a day care center.

“We’ve got to look for ways to enhance revenue and make sure our future is as bright as our present,” he added. “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

Stephen Smith, executive director of West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition — a nonprofit group that aims to promote the health and well-being of state children — called Blankenship’s plan a “fantastic idea.”

“Day cares are not big business,” added Smith. “It may well work as a way to provide a community service in a building that needs it.”

The median wage for day care workers in the state is $8.63 per hour, he said.

“Day cares operate at low-profit margins for people who do this because they’re passionate about it,” he explained.

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