Soon the crackling of little feet will fill a historic barn on a gentle slope overlooking the Kalamazoo River, built a century ago as a stable.
The historic Sullivan Barn at 49 S. Cass St., just off West Jackson Street in downtown Battle Creek, is entering a new phase in its century-old history. Formerly used for Sullivan Dairy’s stable horses to deliver milk throughout town, the three-story structure is slated to become home to Bright Light Early Care and Education, with plans to open in December and eventually serve 90 infants and all. -small.
Lindsey Potter, founder, owner and director of Bright Light, said she leased two floors from the owners of the barn, Historic Dairy Barn LLC, which converted the building into offices in the early 2000s.
“It’s a fun building to live in,” said. “I can’t wait to sit in this classroom during a January sunset when it’s freezing cold and you can feel the barely warm rays of the sun.”
Potter, a board member for the Childcare Providers of Michigan, said she was forced to open Bright Light because “the need for childcare is so great and the need for something a little different is obvious. “.
There are currently 58 licensed daycares in Calhoun County, including 41 in Battle Creek, according to the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
“Bright Light’s hope is that we are really able to offer families another option,” said Potter.
Nationally, the workforce shortage caused by the pandemic has hit the child care industry harder than most. According to the Ministry of Labor, some 373,000 child care workers were laid off or put on leave when the pandemic outbreak occurred as child care centers were closing. About 70% of those jobs have returned.
“I see the vision”
Katie Hakes of Battle Creek is a mother of a 7 year old daughter and 2 year old son and has held various positions within the child care industry. She was working as a nanny when she was fired due to the pandemic. Her son, Fulton, is now signed up to start at Bright Light, where she will also join a team of around 25 employees.
“I see the vision,” Hakes said. “I see how so organic it is, I can see this piece here and the kids will have that feeling of being at home in a caring setting. Working at home and having kids at home isn’t the easiest situation. Having that routine of getting them to a center is still needed, and he needs it on a large scale. In Battle Creek, everything is full.
Bright Light Early Care and Education will offer mixed multi-age childcare services, divided into three classrooms. Preschool costs $ 215 per week and infant and toddler care costs $ 232.50 per week.
On average, the cost of caring for a toddler in Michigan is $ 10,374 per year, according to 2020 data from Childcare Aware of America, an advocacy group focused on affordability and access. to quality child care services.
“Our business is really about making child care an extension of the home,” Potter said. “Many daycares nationwide are an extension of kindergarten. As an extension of the house, we will look and feel different. Most kids will only have one or two teams of teachers throughout their stay here. They could be with this staff for two and a half to three years. The classroom environment will be more like a home, with sofas and natural materials, and more floor games than a kindergarten classroom with conventional childcare equipment.
This extends outside the barn, where a natural playground has been built with rocks to jump on, tunnels to cross, hills to descend, and where there will be swings and a dirt kitchen. Potter said Bright Light would also use the linear park trail that divides the property with the Kalamazoo River and its nearby confluence with the Battle Creek River.
“We are on a very nice trail system so I want to see us using the sidewalks and trails for walks, strollers and exploring,” she said. “We are on a very uncrowded street so there is a lot of security to be on Cass and Service, mainly the traffic from the daycare. The children see the river and understand that it is a risk. As we move them to be able to participate in the world around them, it gives them encouragement, power and authority over their decisions that they can practice in kindergarten. “
The interior of the barn is currently being transformed into a nursery, with the remaining office space on the upper floor being available for hire. Yet some of the historic character of the barn remains, including the raised windows that were once stalls for horses.
The barn has ‘nine lives’
In 1999, the 9,000 square foot barn was purchased from the city by Larry Rizor, Dave Schweitzer and Stephen Jessup, who turned it into an office complex, with work completed in 2002.
Rizor said a number of investors in the project were the first tenants, but they have passed out as people retire or their businesses become more obsolete. Then the pandemic changed the way many businesses use office space.
“We had to grapple with the concept of repurposing the building,” Rizor said. “With COVID and less need for office space, we decided this would be an opportunity.”
The barn was built in 1921 and designed by architect EW Arnold, who also designed the nearby Ann J. Kellogg School and Battle Creek Town Hall.
The barn was a livery that housed horses and wagons and eventually served as a truck garage after WWII for The Milk Producers Co. (later renamed Sullivan Milk Products Co.). It is said to be the only barn remaining within the city limits from before 1982 (before the town and township merger) and is reminiscent of a time when glass milk bottles were delivered by horse and buggy.
Sullivan Milk Products was sold in 1969 and the dairy was demolished in 1984. But the barn remained.
“He’s transformed a few times. I guess he’s got nine lives,” Rizor said. “The barn is still a valuable asset at the confluence of the rivers near the linear park. It is still an asset worth investing in, we have decided that the barn is worth a new life.”
Contact reporter Nick Buckley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-966-0652. Follow him on Twitter: @NickJBuckley
CARE AND EDUCATION OF LITTLE LIGHT BRIGHT LIGHT
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