From a trailer to a new home: Bowman’s Tot-Lot Child Care enjoying new 4,000 square-foot facility

BOWMAN -- Anyone that visits Tot-Lot Child Care will see a lot of happy faces, and not just from the children. The 4,000 square-foot day care center in Bowman is a second home for approximately 60 children and 13 employees, including director Dee...

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Press Photo by April Baumgarten Tot-Lot Child Care Director Dee Dobitz, left, supervises a play area at the year-old facility in Bowman.

BOWMAN - Anyone that visits Tot-Lot Child Care will see a lot of happy faces, and not just from the children.
The 4,000 square-foot day care center in Bowman is a second home for approximately 60 children and 13 employees, including director Dee Dobitz. Children can be seen dancing to music, playing with toys and sleeping in a nursery in a spacious area.
But it wasn’t always like that, Dobitz said.
“You should have seen the last place we were in,” the director of 13 years said.
1 bathroom for 18 children

Tot-Lot used to be in a single-wide trailer. The place was too small for the business. It had one bathroom that served 18 children, Dobitz said.
“Now we have several bathrooms where we had one bathroom before, which somehow managed to work,” Dobitz said. “Now I look back and think I don’t know how that worked. But it did.”
It wasn’t just the space, the director added. The dynamics of the children that needed day care had also changed. The age group was expanding, meaning the facility needed more room for the children.
Dobitz began looking for other options, but it seemed they were out of reach. A committee made up of community members thought they could build the facility for less than $300,000. They would later find out it would cost approximately $1 million.
‘What do you need?’ In the meantime, Ken and Joyce Luff of Luff Exploration Co. in Denver were talking with people in Bowman, asking them what they felt they needed in the city.
Ken Luff has done business in the area since 1974 and still has 16 employees living in town.
“I went to them and asked them, ‘What do you need in this town?’” Ken said.
He wasn’t looking at building roads or recreation centers. He went through several months of talking to different people who said they needed a facility for child care.
Dobitz, Ken Luff and a committee soon began talks about the facility. He even visited the trailer.
“When I went through that trailer, I was amazed by how she made that … 500 square-foot trailer work,” he said, adding Dobitz kept it spotless.
But he understood that the children, and Bowman, needed a better place.
“We wanted a facility that would fit not only today’s needs but tomorrow,” Ken Luff said.
Day care has always been a need in Bowman, Dobitz said. Until recently, Tot-Lot was only one of two day care providers in Bowman County.
“We have some families that come from Rhame,” Dobitz said, adding there has been a waiting list for almost seven years.
“There are days we are in the upper 40s. Some days we are in the low 20s, but most days we are in the upper 20s, low 30s,” she said.
‘A wonderful gift’ The center was completed in 2012 and the business moved in. They went from one bathroom to three. The nursery, laundry room, kitchen and play area outside was larger. They added more play rooms and even a nursing room.
“We had mothers that had to nurse in the car before,” Dobitz said.
Many families couldn’t find day care for their children, Tot-Lot employee Louise Wojahn said. But the building has changed that.
“It’s night and day,” she said, comparing the current building to the trailer. “The trailer was kind of falling apart. We didn’t know how long we would last there. This facility is spectacular. Getting this facility was a wonderful gift.”
The basement is unfinished, but they hope to find a construction company to do it soon.
Wojahn doesn’t have children of her own, but she said the ones she watches over are “her children.” And that’s what has kept her there for 11 years.
“It’s watching them grow, having them come in when they are 6 or 8 weeks old,” she said. “You have the first steps, the first teeth and the first words.”
“The parents say that we are giants in their minds,” she said.
If there is one thing Dobitz doesn’t like about having more children and a bigger facility, it’s the added paperwork, she said with a chuckle.
“I don’t get to spend as much time with the kids,” Dobitz said. “I just enjoy their personalities.”
But knowing there is more space available for day care makes Dobitz happy, adding it has made Bowman a better place to live.
“The community won’t run without day care,” she said. “Knowing that even after I retire there is this wonderful building that, if managed in the right way, will be here for a really long time.”
Ken Luff agreed.
“Of the things we do every year, it is up toward the top,” he said. “There is such sincerity and wonderful warmth by the community, the board and the people that use it.”
Tot-Lot serves infants to 8 year olds and is open from 7 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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Press Photo by April Baumgarten Children at Tot-Lot get a hard-earned rest after dancing as they lie down and watch a movie.

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