Request puts recreation and daycare proponents at odds

Mayor Jeremy O’Neil presented the concept of having Stepping Stones Learning Center (SSLC) move into the City of Valdez Recreation Center at the July 1st Council meeting.
CLICK HERE to read SSLC Proposal.

Passionate parents talked of their need for daycare and their belief that the City of Valdez should provide a solution. The Parks & Recreation Center, who didn’t seem to be in on the discussion about renting the facility to a private non profit until recently, presented a document outlining challenges and impacts they would face if the Recreation Center activities and employees were displaced.
CLICK HERE to read Parks & Recreation document.

In an effort to better understand the issue, KVAK has compiled some information to shed light on the numbers and history behind this request.

* Stepping Stones became a non-profit in late 2017
* City Council gave the non-profit $64,000 out of Council contingency funds. $25,000 was dispersed in late 2017 and the remainder was paid quarterly in 2018.
* In 2019 – $91,000 was requested and granted to SSLC as a Community Service Organization
* Square footage of the Recreation Center is 5,898 square feet
* City of Valdez is currently charging $1.81 per square foot for space they lease at the Valdez Airport
* If SSLC were to rent the Recreation Center, the cost would be $10,675 monthly

In addition to the document “Impacts to Community Rec Center” prepared for the July 2nd meeting, the City Council agenda for tonight states the Parks & Recreation Commission plans to present more information on the impacts and a recommendation and/or list of concerns at the July 15th City Council meeting. There is a Work Session on the proposal scheduled for July 23rd.


We asked Stepping Stones Daycare a series of questions about their proposal and rather than paraphrase, we will be presenting our questions and their answers as written in their entirety.

  1.         How many kids affected / How many in the daycare/preschool?

 We currently have about 35 kids at the daycare but get requests on a regular basis for kids who need care. We are not able to accommodate any more kids due to the size of the current location.  We continually turn away many after school children as well.

We have 19 preschool age kids enrolled.  The Elementary School is offering a preschool program this upcoming school year for 4 year olds and we are looking into busing our kids that are in the program. This will allow us to focus our preschool program to the three year olds and possibly take in more kids during for preschool hours.

  1.         If the City makes the Recreation Center available, is Stepping Stones planning to pay Fair Market Value Rent for the Space?

Yes as we stated in our letter to City Council, we are willing to rent the space at fair market value.

  1.         Does Stepping Stones plan, and have fund available, to pay for improvements to Recreation Center to make it acceptable as a daycare facility?

It is unlikely that any costly improvements to the Recreation Center would be needed to get it licensed as a daycare facility.  One of the major pieces needed is a sprinkler system, which the Recreation Center already has.  We are currently operating in a facility that has a lot less to offer then the Recreation Center.

We have also been in contact with other possible partners that could potentially help with funding if they are needed to get into a new facility.

  1.        In your request to the City, you said Stepping Stones was looking  to use the facility temporarily. Can you define temporary?

Until a long term facility is available and ready.  There is a effort that has been initiated by Providence to look at gathering partners to possibly build or outfit a new facility, but this is likely to take a couple years.  Stepping Stones does not want to displace any Recreation Center activities and as discussed with the Parks and Recreation Director prior to going to City Council feels that there could be some sharing or partnerships formed through this. We value the Recreation Center and the activities that have been happening at the Recreation Center.  We are also very appreciative of the Valdez City School to come to the table to offer to support and house some of the important programs and activities that have been happening at the Recreation Center.

  1.        Does Stepping Stones intend to apply for City Funding during the 2020 budget process as a Community Service Organization? How much will you be requesting?

We have not completed the budget outlook for the 2020 process yet, and it will largely depend on what location the Center is operating in.

We are very grateful for the funding that the center currently gets from the City and have been using it wisely.  We hope to be financially independent but are not there yet.  The Center would need a larger facility before we can enroll more kids and work towards being self-sustainable.

  1.       Why did you go to the City of Valdez for assistance? 

We are looking for partnerships.  Stepping Stones is a Non-profit daycare in Valdez that was started a year and half ago by citizens and parents who wanted to see stable daycare in Valdez.  There had been three previous owners in four years and each time it was a risk of closing.  By forming a non-profit with a board of parents and citizens it was in-visioned that progress could be made to make a more sustainable daycare center to serve the city of Valdez.

There aren’t many buildings in Valdez that are available that can accommodate the needs of a daycare.  Stepping Stones has looked at just about all commercially available buildings that come on the market in the last two years. Residential homes have also been considered, but are largely too small and broken apart to be used without major modifications. Some Churches have restrictions that wouldn’t allow us to pay our staff and others are too small.  The State and College have also been approached for renting of space.

Stepping Stones brought up the proposal to rent the Recreation Center because it is a building in Valdez that would likely be easily license-able.  The Board has checked with the State licensing office and the Fire Marshals and while they can’t pre-approve anything, neither anticipated any hurdles with licensing the Recreation Center. The biggest hurdle we’ve run into while looking at different facilities is the need of a sprinkler system and the Recreation Center has one.  The licensing process would take at least a month and requires in site visits from both the fire marshal and a state licensing reviewer.

The fire that happened above the center has the center concerned about its future in that location. The water damage is likely to cause mold in the future. The location wasn’t ideal from the time it was rented, but it was the only spot that was obtainable at that point in time. The center has been consistently looking for a new facility since we moved in.

  1.       Do you feel they should assist other daycare providers and facilities? 

There is currently no other facility in Valdez that is licensed for child care except for Valdez preschool, who doesn’t provide all day care.  There is a daycare shortage in Valdez and it is encouraging families to leave Valdez and putting stress on community members.  Parents of children who have attended the daycare work at Providence, Alyeska, the State, the City of Valdez, Valdez City Schools, USCG, PWSCC, CVTC and other places that provides services to those in Valdez. The places that the parents work keep the community running.

Stepping Stones supports any childcare providers in town, and is supportive of them getting funding from the City.  Its discouraging to turn families away who are in need of childcare and we would encourage others to open up additional Child Care options in town.

For families who get assistance from the state or federal government for child care can only get this funding if they are enrolled at a licensed facility.  Also children who are in foster care have to go to a licensed facility and these children in particular are at risk of being moved to another town if there isn’t a licensed facility in town.


Thanks to City of Valdez and SSLC for providing information for this article