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Day care dilemma

Press Photo by Beth Wischmeyer Kael Jones, 1, looks at the camera while Elissa Messer, day care worker, Adam Palmquist, 1, right, and Elayshia Schow, 2, play in the background Wednesday. The children attend Luv'n Care Daycare in Dickinson. Residential group day cares in Dickinson may see changes in how many children they can accommodate, but officials are unsure when and how this will affect them.

Changes are being made in the number of children day cares can take and day care owners and Dickinson officials have some questions.

Those interested in opening residential day cares will have to adhere to a 12-child limit, Dickinson Fire Chief Bob Sivak said. Existing day cares with more than 12 may be grandfathered in, but much is still uncertain.

"These are issues that are being talked about statewide," Sivak said. "The main thing that really started this, not just locally but statewide, is the childcare providers that want to have their business out of their homes.

"The home is built to be, in the majority of cases, a single family residence."

The state allows up to 18 children at a residential day care, but under the state building code, which the city adopted, 12 are allowed, said Mel Zent, Dickinson senior code enforcement officer.

Any more than that is classified as a "center." "It's a different license and it will take you right out of the residential site and put you into a commercial facility, basically," he said.

Kim Feininger owns the residential Kim's Daycare in Dickinson. She didn't know the change was coming.

Feininger has been providing day care for 28 years and is licensed as a "double group," with two licenses in one facility: One for 18 children and one for 16 children. She does not live on site.

"When it first came to us we were really concerned because we were hearing a lot of rumors that were going around," Feininger said of the changes. After a meeting with day care provides, the city and fire department last week, "I believe we came to a compromise that will be in everyone's best interest," she added. She said the agreement gives providers seven years to bring the number of children per license to 12.

Feininger said there are not enough quality day cares as it is.

The decision on when the change will take place has not been made, said Deb Barros, Dickinson fire prevention specialist.

Zent said the fire department used to be under the uniformed fire code and has switched to the international fire code now.

"That is where the change is coming into play basically," Zent said. "They regulate day cares, we don't. We have the regulations for them, but they do their annual inspections."

Zent said it is his hope some kind of sunset clause can be worked out between officials and day care providers.

Sivak stresses the changes are not something that will happen overnight.

"It's going to come down to what local jurisdictions can do and what other communities are doing," he said. "We'll be talking to some players here and getting some feedback, but we'll also be watching Bismarck, watching Fargo. Nobody should panic. This is not going to be something that will drop like an ax on them."

Zent said anyone with comments or questions regarding the change should contact Stark County Social Services.

Efforts are under way to make residential day care numbers uniform across the state, he added.

"The question is the liability," Zent said. "Because the code has adopted the number 12 and the state is allowing 18, I know we're waiting for an interpretation from the state's attorney."

Calls to officials at Stark County Social Services, a licensing agency, were not returned.