PANORA, Iowa — The Little Panther Daycare and Preschool of Panora will soon break ground on a 1,440-square-foot expansion of its existing building, enabling the facility to accommodate 15 more children and two additional full-time employees.
The expansion is needed in order to accommodate a long waiting list for childcare at the center and was made possible through a combination of public and private loans and grants, according to Page Arganbright, director of the Little Panther. A capital campaign for matching grant funds is underway.
“Quality childcare is in high demand and we have had waiting lists in every classroom for several years,” said Arganbright. “However, as a nonprofit, we are very fiscally responsible, and the upfront investment was the challenge. The grants and zero-interest loans have made this expansion a reality, and we will soon be able to open 15 additional childcare slots and provide two more full-time jobs.”
The state of Iowa announced the formation of the Child Care Task Force on March 10, 2021, in response to the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce and families. As part of that initiative, more than $13 million was made available for existing daycare centers to expand, creating 4,000 new childcare openings. The Future Ready Iowa Child Care Challenge Awards provided a grant of $184,674 to the Little Panther, which included $10,000 that needs to be matched by community investment and fundraising.
In addition to the grant funds, two local cooperatives have stepped up to provide 0% interest loans to provide the capital for this expansion, Arganbright said. Guthrie County Rural Electric Cooperative (REC) agreed to provide a $150,000 loan, and Panora Telco will provide a $100,000 loan. This will allow construction to begin immediately, she said.
According to Cozy Nelsen, chief executive officer of the Guthrie County REC, the Little Panther was one of the original recipients of the REC’s Revolving Loan Fund (RLF).
“When our RLF was established in 2001, this daycare was one of the initial projects,” said Nelsen. “To see its continued success is a testament to the commitment of its board members, employees and the community to Little Panther Daycare. Guthrie County REC is proud to stay involved and lend our RLF funds to Little Panther Daycare for this much needed expansion.”
The Panora Telco leadership was similarly enthusiastic.
“Panora Telco is very excited about the opportunity to use its revolving loan fund to support this project for Little Panther,” said Andrew Randol, general manager of Panora Telco. “The purpose of the fund is to inject capital into worthwhile community economic development projects. We’ve supported Little Panther from the beginning and know the important role it serves in our community.”
Little Panther is kicking off a capital campaign to raise the necessary matching funds for the state grant as well as to purchase equipment for the new addition. Community members and businesses who would like to support this important business asset can contribute through Little Panther’s Go Fund Me account or mail contributions to Little Panther Daycare and Preschool, PO Box 567, Panora, IA 50216.
“Our board has recognized the need for this expansion for several years, but we wanted to make sure the time was right,” said Emily Albers, president of the Little Panther Daycare and Preschool board of directors. “Our board includes families served by Little Panther as well as a business people in the community, so we know how essential quality childcare is to economic vitality and we are so appreciative to Guthrie County REC, Panora Telco and the Iowa Department of Human Services and Workforce Development for this funding. We hope to see businesses and community members step up to support our capital campaign.”
Little Panther was founded in Panora in 2002 by a group of parents and community advocates who recognized the need for more high-quality childcare in Guthrie County. Today the center serves 39 families and an average of 54 children per day, ranging in age from 4 weeks up to 12 years old. Little Panther employs 11 full-time and 9 part-time employees, including teachers, assistants and foodservice professionals.
For more information about Little Panther Daycare and Preschool, visit their website at littlepantherdaycare.com or call 641-755-3003.