A former Dubuque church rectory has found new life as a child care facility, reflecting community efforts to adapt historic structures to satisfy current demands.
More than 100 people gathered Tuesday at the Steeple Square campus to tour the Marita Theisen Childcare Center, a $1.6 million project that saw the renovation of the former St. Mary’s Catholic Church rectory.
“The Marita Theisen Childcare Center at Steeple Square has taken a building from the past and made it a successful home for the future of our community — our children,” said Dubuque Mayor Roy Buol at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Other structures on the Steeple Square campus, including the former St. Mary’s Catholic Church, have been transformed into transitional housing and an event space.
The more than 9,000-square-foot child care center, which opens Monday, will accept about 70 pupils from 6 weeks of age through preschool. It will employ 15 full-time and about five part-time staff.
It houses an indoor playroom for infants and toddlers, intended to cultivate gross motor skills, and a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics room for preschoolers.
About one-third of slots are filled, with the greatest demand for those allotted for infants and 1-year-olds.
The center’s location is expected to benefit those families in the Washington Street neighborhood who lack access to quality child care or transportation.
“It can be kind of difficult finding a good center,” said Cathryn Schmitt, a teaching assistant.
She has enrolled her 2-year-old daughter, Addilyn Marburger, in the new program.
“I like how they took something that had historic value that they were possibly just going to tear down and make it something that will benefit,” she said. “There are lots of kids here that need good day care to go to.”
Director Angela Schrodt said the center aims to attract families who receive state child care assistance.
“We’re hoping for about 30% of our population to be within that low-income bracket because we know that child care is a major need in the community and we know that is a major expense,” she said.
Affordable, quality child care is increasingly recognized as a workforce issue.
In 2016, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque and United Way of Dubuque Area Tri-States surveyed nearly 600 Dubuque-area parents and found that nearly 50% of respondents reported turning down a job or working fewer hours due to child care responsibilities.
Dubuque Franciscan Sister Carol Hoverman, who taught piano lessons at St. Mary’s Convent and elementary classroom music at the former Jackson Street and White Street schools, believes the project would hold a special place for a longtime pastor at St. Mary’s Church — Msgr. Anthony Sigwarth.
“(He) was such a neighborhood person,” she said. “If he was alive today, he would be thrilled that this whole block is being used for the benefit of the neighborhood.”