Fort Worth City Council unanimously approved funding for the first of four new Tarrant County child care centers Tuesday.
The city received $2.75 million from Tarrant County to pay for a new Head Start child care facility on city-owned land adjacent to the LVTRise Community Center in the Las Vegas Trail neighborhood. The city will pass the funding to the nonprofit Child Care Associates, which will oversee the design, construction and operation of the facility.
“We’ve been talking for five or six years making this happen,” Kara Waddell, president and CEO of Child Care Associates, said. “So they’re very ready to have a tucked away early learning community.”
Council member Michael Crain, who represents Las Vegas Trail, recused himself from the vote, citing his wife’s employment with Child Care Associates. However, he said he is excited about the new child care facility.
“It will create new spaces in Las Vegas Trail for the Head Start program,” Crain said before the vote. “That’s something we’ve been working on for a long period of time.”
The child care center is one of four that will be built around Tarrant County. Two will be built on Tarrant County College campuses and one more on land owned by the city of Arlington. The facilities are in partnership with the federal Early Head Start program, which provides free, all-day child care for low-income families with children aged 0 to 3.
The facilities are a culmination of years of planning and design that is already underway, Waddell said. Child Care Associates consulted with experts, families and teachers to design a space tailored to the needs of low-income families. The buildings will have more square footage, more windows and a calmer atmosphere meant to create a safe space for children who may have experienced trauma.
“It’s intended to be a multi-decade strategy of making sure that we’ve got, in certain high need areas, facilities that you want to take your child to,” Waddell said. “It’s something that really the community can be proud of.”
The facility will include two rooms for infants, four rooms for toddlers and two pre-kindergarten rooms. The eight classrooms could serve up to 176 kids in total, according to a mayor and council communication about the facility.
In an economy where child care providers are struggling to stay open and meet demand, the new facility in Las Vegas Trail may not be able to accommodate every family seeking child care in the area, Waddell said. Bolstering child care in Tarrant County requires a multi-pronged approach that includes helping private providers.
The new facilities are one part of Tarrant County’s nearly $45 million investment of federal pandemic dollars in early childhood education. The investment includes several allocations to strengthen existing child care businesses. The purpose of the four new facilities is to provide child care for low-income families.
Child Care Associates, which managed the applications for funding sent by Fort Worth, TCC and Arlington, requested about $24 million to fund the four facilities. Instead, the county allocated about $15.5 million at a Sept. 5 meeting — creating a potential $9.2 million shortfall.
The shortfall creates a small $150,000 gap in funding for the new Las Vegas Trail facility, Waddell said. The organization plans to try and stretch the dollars they have available without compromising the quality of the development.
Funding for the three other facilities still needs to be approved through TCC and Arlington, Waddell said. The funding gaps for those facilities are larger than that of Las Vegas Trail’s, she added.
“We are just grateful for the investment, we very rarely get a chance at this,” Waddell said. “We will stretch everything, but we’re not going to cut corners.”
Crain previously told the Report he asked the city manager to make up any shortfall.
“We’re not gonna let $150,000 keep us from a high quality early learning center in Las Vegas Trail,” Waddell said.
The county has previously contributed about $19 million in federal dollars to strengthen early childhood education in partnership with Child Care Associates. The city of Fort Worth also invested $2 million of its own ARPA dollars, approved by the Fort Worth City Council.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.