$750,000 grant to fund renovations at Holy Ghost center, expanding child care capacity

CORRECTED: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect age range for the additional child care slots that would be created. 

An early childhood center located in Dubuque’s North End neighborhood will see renovations in coming months after receiving a $750,000 state grant.

Upgrades to Holy Ghost Early Childhood Center will see the conversion of classrooms used by a former elementary school into space for young learners.

Doing so will enable the center to add up to 107 additional child care slots for infants to 4-year-old pre-kindergartners in a Dubuque location where service is especially scarce.

“We have had a really collaborative effort for months with lots of community members and other organizations to help bridge that gap of child care spaces,” said Holy Family Early Childhood Program Director Lis Ernst. “When this became available, we knew it was a good fit.”

The grant is allocated through the Investing in Iowa’s Child Care program, an initiative intended to increase the availability of child care services throughout the state. It is funded with federal pandemic relief dollars and will cover the costs of the first of two phases of construction at the former Holy Ghost Elementary School.

Cumulatively, the about $1.5 million project will see the complete renovation of the building at 2981 Central Ave.

The first phase of construction includes the addition of new furnishings, bathrooms, lighting, sinks, flooring and fixtures in six or seven classrooms and is expected to begin in October and conclude in February. System leaders are still seeking funding opportunities for the second phase.

The greatest barrier to adding to the city’s child care capacity, Ernst said, is the struggle to locate child care staff, potentially limiting the number of child care spots the program could offer when it opens next year. The center will need 20 to 30 full- and part-time employees.

“We might not be able to get to that 107 right away, but it is a goal to get there,” Ernst said.

Finding and retaining child care workers was an obstacle with which the child care industry struggled prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only exacerbated the industry’s workforce woes.

“We are seeking support and any kind of collaboration with our community,” Ernst said. “It’s a need, not only for us because we need employees. Employers also need their employees to have child care. That is all tied together.”

The early childhood center has operated at the facility since 2010, alongside Holy Ghost Elementary School.

In 2019, members of the Holy Family System’s board of education ended elementary programming at Holy Ghost and St. Anthony Elementary School’s English-based program. Enrollment at each campus had fallen below 80 students.