Town of Pulaski looks to assist citizens, YMCA in childcare expansion

Pulaski County is seen as a “childcare desert” due to the lack of full-time licensed childcare capacity here. Now, a group of citizens is working with the Town of Pulaski to address the problem.

Town Manager Shawn Utt told Pulaski Town Council Tuesday night the group is looking to identify opportunities to expand the childcare center services at the YMCA as a way to address the problem.

Utt said the YMCA and “one or two more” licensed childcare facilities are all that exist in Pulaski County.

He pointed to figures from the Alliance for Better Childcare Strategies, a New River Valley-based coalition, that show Pulaski County has enough full-time, licensed childcare capacity to cover only 8.55 percent of children under the age of 6 in the county. That is compared to 21.44 percent in Montgomery County, 13.7 percent in Floyd County and 34.86 percent in Radford.

Utt said the state recommends 35 to 40 percent coverage.

A member of the YMCA’s board of directors, Utt said the YMCA is out of space at its Oakhurst Avenue facility in Pulaski. Currently the “Y” provides childcare to about 34 children in three classrooms.  He noted there is a waiting list for more children – enough to fill two more classrooms if the “Y” had more space.

The focus of the group, Utt said, has been to find other buildings that can be used for an expanded childcare program.

So far, he said, the group has toured the former Head Start building in Pulaski, the former Claremont Elementary and the former Calfee Training School.

Problems exist at each facility, Utt said. However, the Calfee site was found to be in fairly good condition, with the exception of the kitchen addition, which he said could be removed.

The Calfee Training School building is owned by STNP, Inc., which controls the entire Nancochemonics / Magnox property. Utt said the childcare task force has contacted the STNP attorney and discussions have begun on the potential transfer of the building to the YMCA.

Utt said the group is looking to the town as a partner in the project, to assist it in securing funding sources through future grant applications.

The “Y” believes expansion to a facility such as Calfee could also have other benefits, such as providing space for more spots in an expanded before / after school program, and – depending on the location – social service agencies might also have space available for a one-stop shop for families.

Securing the Calfee Training School for an expanded YMCA childcare program would also reclaim the history of the school and the community.

Built in the 19th century, Calfee was an institution for educating African American children in Pulaski.  The first building burned down in 1938 and was rebuilt in 1940.

When the facility ceased being a school, African American students were bused to Christiansburg Institute.  Councilman Lane Penn noted he was one of the students who was sent to CI.

Adjacent to the school property is the T.G. Howard Center, built by the local African American churches and owned and operated by the Black community.

Both facilities have been largely abandoned in recent years, but a group of citizens have been working to revive the T.G. Howard Center and to reclaim its rich history and many of the functions the center and school served.

Town council on Tuesday expressed support for the project.