Group discussing potential childcare cooperative for downtown

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A group has been meeting for the last eight months about childcare needs in the Great Falls community and met again May 6 to discuss the possibility of establishing a childcare cooperative.

Scott Wolff, the workforce education coalition and development director at the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said the discussion had started in 2020 with the Chamber, Family Connections, Job Service, United Way of Cascade County and the City of Great Falls.

Jason Nitschke of the Great Falls Development Authority, said that the childcare survey commissioned by GFDA found a “tremendous need for childcare in this community.”

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He said they’re looking to serve the downtown community in particular since there’s a concentration of businesses and employees in that area.

The group said that they’re considering the formation of a cooperative to have buy-in from businesses in the downtown area that need childcare slots for their employees.

During the May 6 meeting, the group mainly consisted of people from service organizations that would serve in advisory roles and a current childcare provider.

Casey Schreiner of Alluvion Health said he wished more business owners and employers had been made aware of the meeting to participate in the conversation and possibly serve as steering committee members to establish the cooperative.

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He said Alluvion is looking at whether it would be better for them to participate in the cooperative process or handle childcare on their own using an existing facility or one they’re in the process of purchasing.

Wolff said that at this point, they’ve identified the Community Recreation Center on the 800 block of 2nd Avenue South as a possible location. The facility is owned by the city and the upstairs portion is currently available.

Wolff said they’ve talked with the city about a phased move-in approach to use the upstairs area first and then expand into the entire building once the new city indoor aquatic center opens in Lions Park.

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Tracy McIntyre of the Montana Cooperative Development Center walked the group through types of cooperatives and the process for forming one and suggested that they establish a steering committee of five to seven members to get into the weeds of forming a childcare cooperative.

Nitschke said the goal of the May 6 meeting was to identify people willing to serve on such a steering committee to move the process forward. Three people said they would be willing.

The group said they’d spend the next few days telling downtown business owners and employers about their effort in the hopes of getting some to come to a meeting on May 12 to continue the discussion.

Mike McIntosh, the city fire marshal, said the benefit to using the Rec Center is that it’s already got a sprinkler and fire alarm system, which means they can use more of the building for childcare facilities under the fire code.

The group has been looking at applying for a childcare innovation grant through the state that is funded with federal COVID relief funds. The deadline for that grant application is June 10.

During the meeting, several mentioned that they know of potential employees who couldn’t take jobs due to lack of childcare options or of employers who can’t fill needed positions due to the lack of childcare.

Chuck Anderson, deputy city manager, said that childcare has come up in their collective bargaining negotiations and that city employees have also expressed a need for more childcare options.

To get more information or participated in the conversation about a childcare cooperative downtown, contact Scott Wolff at