April 17, 2024

Afton Infant Toddler Center moves forward with development

The Afton Care Center is under renovations to become Afton's new Infant Toddler Center.

AFTON - East Union plans to offer a new service for the Afton community with the establishment of a new Infant Toddler Center, taking over the building of the defunct Afton Care Center. The building’s renovations are expected to be finished by November.

The previous owners of the care center, the Afton Care Development Company, had gifted the building to the school for the creation of the Infant Toddler Center.

The building’s renovation plans designate outdoor play space, a kitchen, a multipurpose room, laundry space, offices and four classrooms for four age groups, infants, mobile infants, toddlers and 2.5 year olds.

The construction has been funded through East Union applying to multiple grants, community donations and holding fundraisers. The construction cost the school about $2,288,000, a simpler investment compared to building an addition to the current school building.

Providing childcare has been a key concern for the city of Afton, and, with this addition, the district hopes this could entice potential young families to the community.

Peggy Hardy is the director of the Early Childhood Center in East Union and has been working on this project since 2022 and has been working for the East Union district in various roles since 1996.

“It’s a step in the right direction to keep our district, our town, our community viable,” said Hardy. “Little towns struggle. We are excited to be a community partner for that.”

Community support is the main goal, and has been a mission for the school district as well. “When we are making good relationships with families, and they are meeting each other, and they’re kids are making friends, it builds connection in the community,” said Hardy. “The chances are greater they’re going to stay in school here.”

Providing meals and childcare to the community is assisted with programs such as what’s provided by local AEAs. Hardy expressed excitement around the state of Iowa encouraging legislature based around retaining staff.

Establishing early connections to the community allows for easier integration into the wider district. “Because they’re East Union kids, we’re offering the best we have, the best we can to grow and develop, to be healthy, competent, happy learners,” said Hardy.

Previous options for the building were denied based on the long-term structural integrity of some buildings, limiting the options available. The current plans for the building also detail an unfinished west wing that could be used in the future.

Focus for the development of young kids is based on building their fine motor muscles, with activities that involve squeezing, holding and balancing items. This will help build a foundation for infants and toddlers before they move on to preschool.

“Young children, every interaction they have helps them see themselves positively in the world,” said Hardy.

Part of the plans for the infant toddler center is the construction of an outdoor learning environment. It’s planned to be used to connect young kids with nature, building an early understanding of the world. A few activities include finding worms, watching birds and rolling down hills. These activities will encourage kids to ask questions about the natural world.

“Cognitively, [kids] are curious, they ask questions, they make predictions,” said Hardy. “Sometimes they’re wrong. There’s no real learning if there isn’t a problem to be solved.”

With the development of young children, Hardy recognizes the importance in retaining caretakers and limiting turnover. “We’re conscious of trying not to have too many transitions of workers so [the children] have their people,” said Hardy.

Childhood development was always meant to represent a permanent goal for East Union. Superintendent for East Union Tim Kuehl said, “We look at this as a permanent fixture for the school and community that we’ll be able to support long-term.”

Plans for a four-day school week in East Union wouldn’t change the schedule and care available for families with young children. “I wouldn’t see this as a reduction of our services in any way.” Services will be made available for any struggling kids or families.

Demolition for the building has already begun, converting the former housing complex for seniors into a ready-to-use classroom. The renovation is slated to finish in November. An open house will be scheduled before then to show families and community members the renovated space.

Nick Pauly

News Reporter for Creston News Advertiser. Raised and matured in the state of Iowa, Nick Pauly developed a love for all forms of media, from books and movies to emerging forms of media such as video games and livestreaming.