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5 western ND communities, including Killdeer, awarded day care grants

BISMARCK -- State officials awarded $625,000 in grants Thursday to help five western North Dakota communities address their child care shortage.

The Board of University and School Lands approved $125,000 each for Killdeer, Watford City, Williston, Ray and Crosby to increase child care capacity.

Killdeer and Crosby are each planning to buy a modular child care facility that can accommodate up to 18 children, while Watford City is planning to build a facility for 70 children.

The funding for Ray will help create day care space for 18 children inside the local school. Williston has several local requests for money, and the city will need to determine how to spend its money under the terms of the grant.

The state money for the projects comes from tax revenue paid to the state by the oil and gas industry and, therefore, is only available to political subdivisions.

The grants can be used to establish new community-owned modular child care facilities, expand an existing publicly-owned early childhood facility or build a new public early childhood facility.

Political subdivisions are required to provide matching funds under the terms of the grant.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple said he was sorry they couldn't provide more funding. The Land Board received 23 applications from western North Dakota political subdivisions asking for $2 million in grants.

"You look at them, and you just have a really strong sense of the need out there and the demand," he said.

School Superintendent Benjamin Schafer said the grant funding for Ray's day care will be a big help.

"It's unbelievable for our community and for this area because day care is next to impossible to find," he said.

The grants are a positive first step, said Shawn Wenko, assistant director of Williston Economic Development.

However, a new study on the child care needs in Williston shows it would take an investment of $28 million to meet 50 percent of the child care demand.

The study, conducted by First Children's Finance of Minneapolis, recommended 1,100 child care slots be added in the next five years, with 610 of those added in the next year, Wenko said.

The lack of day care is having a direct effect on the available workforce because many spouses are unable to work, he said.

"It's severely hindering our commercial development at this point," Wenko said.

The awarding of the child care grants comes two months after Dalrymple asked the Land Board to consider creating a pilot program.

The state's $135 million energy impact grant program has helped other infrastructure needs in western North Dakota, but the "tremendous need" for day care services hasn't been addressed, Dalrymple said at the time.

The increased population, housing shortage and soaring cost of commercial space have contributed to the shortage of day care in western North Dakota.

The Land Board was initially going to approve $500,000 worth of grants Thursday. However, Dalrymple, who was in Ray earlier this week, suggested adding another $125,000 for Ray.

Ray's project was next in line for funding and met the terms of the grant, said Gerry Fisher, assistant director of the state's Energy Infrastructure & Impact Office.

The next round of energy impact grants will again focus on emergency services. There is $4 million set aside for these grants.

Forum Communications reporter Amy Dalrymple contributed to this report.