By MIKE WILLIAMS
Pulaski Town Council on Tuesday approved an amendment to its zoning ordinance to allow for a daycare center in response to a request from a local church.
During a public hearing on the issue Tuesday, Dr. Richard Gerhtz addressed council on behalf of Memorial Baptist Church on Peppers Ferry Road in Pulaski.
“We would like to develop a high-quality, Christ-based licensed childcare center serving children aged 0 through 5 years old,” Gerhtz told council.
He noted he was a pediatrician for 50 years – the last 25 of which were in Pulaski – and cared for about 23,000 children over that time in the community and surrounding area.
“I became very much aware of the critical need for quality childcare in the county of Pulaski,” Gerhtz said. “There is estimated to be about 1,700 children six years and under who would be eligible for childcare. But there are only approximately 300 slots for childcare for the entire county. In the town of Pulaski, there are only three licensed childcare centers with about 125 slots. And only one of those provides childcare for infants and toddlers under two and a half years of age.
“And so, our church family decided that we needed to meet the needs of the children in our community. We wanted to make contact with young families with children to encourage the development of Christ-centered families and to provide a Christian orientation to childcare. We also felt that it was critically important for us to be a licensed childcare center to follow all the guidelines and requirements that are laid out in the guidelines that the State Board of Social Services requires in their licensing process.
“We propose to develop this childcare center within our existing facility. In particular, we have a activity building that was built in 1998 with approximately 4,000 square feet of classroom space and open activity areas that were intended for children’s education, both Sunday school programs and church related programs, but it was originally planned that it would be used for school,” Gerhtz explained.
“We do now have a kindergarten through 12th grade private Christian school, Mayflower Christian Academy that operates in our facility. But we have not had a childcare or preschool program until this time.
“We would like to develop this childcare center as a ministry of our church and we would provide the facilities, provide the administrative services that are required and oversight of the program. But our plan is to have a fully professional staff, directors and teachers that are experienced and certified teachers with college level training in early childhood development.
“We’re looking to provide an age-specific, developmentally appropriate environment that allows children at that critical stage of psychosocial development and motor development and language development that all takes place in that first three to five years,” he said.
“After all the years I practiced pediatrics, I saw so many times children that didn’t have access to that kind of environment, whether it was lack of resources or lack of time and availability of parents in the home or just informal childcare whether it was just staying with relatives or with friends or neighbors or just informal at home childcare. I think the rigid guidelines that are laid out by the State Department of Social Services really accurately portray what is necessary to ensure that when children reach that school age and enter into kindergarten, they have that solid foundation of physical, emotional and spiritual development that prepares them for that next stage of life.
So, we have the application ready for a special exception if you approve the amendment, then we will then have that ready to provide you all the information in detail,” Gerhtz said.
Following the presentation, Councilman Greg East thanked Gerhtz and Memorial Baptist for the “very much needed” childcare center proposal.