Oceana County Early Learning Center to open Sept. 28.

September 24, 2020

Shelby Public Schools Superintendent Tim Reeves, Peterson Farms Procurement Manager Tracy Blamer, Oceana County Early Learning Center Director Sarah Wolting and Shelby Public Schools Early Childcare Coordinator Teresa Mead stand in front of the new facility.

Oceana County Early Learning Center to open Sept. 28.

Openings still available.


By Allison Scarbrough, Editor.

HART TOWNSHIP — Shelby Public Schools and Peterson Farms, Inc. joined forces to open an early learning center in the former Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses on Oceana Drive that is set to open Monday, Sept. 28.

The Oceana County Early Learning Center is available for families county-wide.

“We still have openings for all of the classrooms right now,” said Shelby Public Schools Early Childcare Coordinator Teresa Mead. The facility serves children from infants to 4 years of age and before- and after-school children up to age 12, said Mead.

One of four classrooms in the new facility.

With a serious daycare shortage in the area, the new 1,900-square-foot facility is welcome news for working parents in the community.

Located just 400 feet north of the Peterson campus, the site is ideal for Oceana County’s largest employer. Peterson Farms made a “several hundred thousand dollar investment” into the project, said Peterson Farms Procurement Manager Tracy Blamer.

“We, as a school district, are very appreciative of that level of investment from our neighbors to help us with this whole project,” said Shelby Public Schools Superintendent Tim Reeves. “Truly, the whole idea started as a joint venture. This is Peterson’s facility, and they have paid for all of the renovations, and we’ve come in with staff and some resources and some furnishings and other things to help. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without them.”

The school district’s early childcare program has been at capacity, Mead said, and the new childcare center fulfills a critical need for Oceana County families.

The 48-capacity facility has approximately 10 openings — at all age levels — remaining, said Mead. Approximately 25 percent of the families currently enrolled are Peterson Farms employees, Blamer said. The facility can take up to 50 percent Peterson families with the remaining half going to other Oceana County families.

It operates year-round Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., said OCELC Director Sarah Wolting, and it is closed only for major holidays. The center employs eight lead teachers and assistants with more possibly being hired in, Wolting said. “That number could go up depending on how many more children we get, because we are not at capacity right now.” At capacity, the center could employ up to 11 people (in addition to Wolting and Mead.)

Both Shelby and Hart schools will have bus stops at the center, said Blamer.

There are several fun and educational playtime accessories children can choose from in the outdoor green space, including a wooden stage and a lowered basketball hoop. There is a separate area designated for the younger children.

“The building was in beautiful shape,” said Blamer. A licensed architect transformed what was once a place of worship into a daycare facility. The renovations cater to the desired capacity of the facility. Peterson Farms sought feedback from the community to determine how many youngsters the facility should serve. “Based on that feedback from the community, we actually built it specific to our needs. So, we installed four classrooms; changed two bathrooms over to unisex; we did a new hallway and extension; and put in a completely new playground.”

Local contractor Stovall Construction performed the work.

The outdoor green space behind the building provides a fun and unique play area for youngsters. Fruit trees and a vegetable garden — in keeping with Peterson Farms’ agriculture theme — will be added. It serves as a “natural playground landscape,” said Mead. “It’s the star of this project,” Blamer added.

Local business Baseline Woodworking created the playground equipment.

Food at the center is provided by the school’s food service program, said Superintendent Reeves. The school has a van, which transports hot meals from the main campus to other sites, such as the New Era Elementary School, New Era Christian School, Thomas Read Elementary and the Ladder Community Center, he said.

One of many colorful murals on the outside of the building.

Other community support has helped make the daycare facility a reality, Mead explained. A $20,000 grant from the Oceana County Women Who Care provided funding for furnishings and curriculum. Also, the Community Foundation for Oceana County chipped in $3,000 toward curriculum. “This is curriculum-based. We will be running the same curriculum as every other school childcare center in Oceana County. Even the infants will have a curriculum.”

Wooden wall furnishings throughout the entire building were handcrafted and donated by Wolting’s dad, Rick Zoulek, a retired Shelby teacher and current coach.

“It’s the perfect example of the entire community at a county level coming together to make something,” said Blamer.

“Many studies have come in about the lack of daycare, and it’s only getting worse,” said Mead. “A lot of daycare facilities are closing down. There is really a critical shortage in Oceana County for child care. We hear that all the time.”

The center will be routinely and thoroughly cleaned and sterilized to keep the children safe in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Reeves. “This will fall under the same umbrella of custodial disinfection and cleaning in addition to what the specific licensing requires anyway.”

“It has been such a pleasure to work with Shelby Public Schools,” said Blamer. “Teresa and Sarah have just been phenomenal.”

“And we can say same thing about Tracy,” Wolting said. “She’s been great.”

“It’s been a true collaboration,” said Mead.

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