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Open house for pod model day care draws interest

Alissa Kretsch shows off her day care pod space during the Westridge Place open house. Kretsch is one of four providers who will be working out of the new pod model day care.

NEW ULM — The Westridge Place pod model day care is drawing local and outside interest.

An open house event was held at 1314 Westridge Road on Thursday. This is the location of New Ulm’s pod model day care, Westridge Place. The open house was attended by some locals, but also a few interested parties from outside New Ulm also attended. Representatives from Lamberton and St. James visited the open house to see if the pod model could work in their communities.

The pod model day care is a new concept in Minnesota that allows up to four in-home day care providers to operate out of the same building. Instead of a single day care center operating out of the building, four independent day care businesses can run out of the same building.

Child care shortages have been an ongoing problem in Minnesota for several years. It has been cited as a top concern of New Ulm officials for over half a decade.

The creation of Westridge Place was made possible through funding from New Ulm’s Economic Development Authority (EDA). Two years ago, the EDA board agreed to purchase the property at 1314 Westridge Road with the intention of creating a pod-model day care facility.

EDA Coordinator Heather Bregel said the pod model appealed to the New Ulm EDA because in was the quicker method of getting day care than trying to start a center. Day care centers require more regulations than the pod model. The pod model allows providers with in-home family licenses to operate out of the building.

Debbie Vollmer and Valerie Holter visited from Lamberton. Vollmer is chairwoman of the Lamberton Area Community Foundation advisory board and Holter is Lamberton’s City Clerk. Lamberton, like most of Minnesota, is struggling with day care shortage. The two were curious how the pod model was working in New Ulm and whether it could be implemented in Lamberton.

“It is very impressive,” Holter said after touring Westridge Place. “I think it is possible to do it in Lamberton. We just need to find space.”

Vollmer suggested it might be possible to convert an old-school building to the pod model. Lamberton is currently working on a new school building.

Vollmer said one of the biggest takeaways from the open house was learning how many people day care providers preferred working outside the homes. The pod model allows in-home providers an alternative to using their private residences.

Westridge Place currently has three independent day cares operating in the building with a fourth starting Feb. 1. Westridge Place day care provider Alissa Kretsch was at the open house to answer a question from the public. Kretsch has worked as an in-home provider for 11 and a half years. In late November, she switched her day care operation from her home to Westridge and is pleased with the change.

“I am happy with the setup,” Kretsch said. Her current day care is located on the main floor of Westridge Place and totals 500 square feet. This space allows her to watch up to 12 children at one time.

Kretsch said she was planning on leaving the day care business, but the creation of the Westridge pod model convinced her to stay. She no longer wanted to run a day care out of her home. The pod model gave her an alternative to running the day care outside of her home.

“I can shut the door at the end of day,” Kretsch said. For her, there was a benefit to separate the business from her home life.

A similar sentiment was shared by provider Tamara Miller-Como. She had previously run an in-home day care, but retired five years ago. She too did not want to operate out of her home.

Bregel said after learning about Westridge Place, Miller-Como was willing to return to return to the day care business.

St. James Economic Development Agency (EDA) Director Brianna Sanders also attended the open house. She too felt having a family license provider working in the pod model was appealing.

“We have a good day care center, but some like the family day care approach,” Sanders said. “Many people are interested in taking day care out of their homes.”

All day cares need to conform to certain regulations. Updating a residential home to meet the standard is often challenging for providers.

During the open house, Bregel was asked about the greatest obstacle to creating the pod model. She said it was the upfront costs. Buying and renovating the building at 1314 Westridge cost nearly $1 million. Fortunately, the New Ulm EDA had the money to cover these costs. EDA receives revenue from Garden Terrace apartment rentals. The EDA is also accepting donations from the community to maintain Westridge Place.

“We’re not trying to make a profit off the building,” Bregel said “The goal is to break even.”

The EDA’s goal in assisting day care providers is to keep parents in the workforce. When parents cannot find day care, they cannot work. Readily available day care is an economic benefit.

New Ulm EDA is still accepting donations for Westridge Place from individuals or businesses that wish to support the project.

New Ulm is not the first community in Minnesota to try the pod model, but it has drawn considerable attention from other communities across the state and beyond.

Bregel said U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has expressed interest in touring the Westridge Place. The pod model could have applications on the national level.

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