County officials agree child care is a problem in Jay County.

The question is how they’re going to go about solving the issue.

Jay County Commissioners tabled a decision Monday about whether to contribute up to $700,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds toward a project to convert the former Judge Haynes Elementary School into a facility for child care. Commissioners plan to tour the proposed building before potentially committing funds toward renovations.

Doug Inman, executive director of The Portland Foundation, shared plans in November with Jay County Council and commissioners for purchasing the building, renovating it and developing it into a child care facility. Renovations are estimated at about $1.15 million, which includes tearing down the west wing, where the roof is failing. (Muhlenkamp Building Corporation estimated putting in a new sprinkler system would move the cost to $1.3 million.)

Jay School Corporation has agreed to donate the building as its contribution toward the project. (There are other interested parties in the building that closed its doors about three years ago.) The Portland Foundation also plans to cover up to $500,000 in architectural and engineering costs as well as equipment and supplies.

Inman proposed in November that the county contribute $975,000 and Portland contribute $325,000 to the project from federal coronavirus relief funds. Jay County Council agreed Dec. 6 to fund up to $700,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds toward the project.

Portland City Council tabled the issue Dec. 6.

On Monday, commissioner Brian McGalliard voiced opposition to converting the former elementary school into a daycare.

“In my opinion, I don’t feel comfortable investing public funds into a 70-year-old building,” McGalliard said.

According to figures presented in November by Inman, Muhlenkamp Building Corporation estimated it would cost $7.5 million to build a new 30,000 foot facility similar to Judge Haynes. McGalliard expressed discomfort with one large facility, instead suggesting smaller daycares spread around the county.

“This doesn’t solve the whole countywide daycare problem,” he said.

Commissioner Rex Journay responded, saying the countywide daycare problem isn’t going to be solved all at once.

(According to a June report from Early Learning Indiana’s Closing the Gap program, about 753 children — infants through 5-year-olds — in Jay County are unserved. The proposed facility would serve a maximum of just over 200 children.)

Darren Saiin, who attended the meeting, also advocated for smaller facilities instead of a centralized location.

“You don’t have to make this thing enormous,” he said. “Place them around the county, other than Portland, because there’s a hell of a lot of people out here that aren’t in Portland that need help that you guys never do anything for.”

He advocated for a child care facility in Dunkirk or Redkey instead of in Portland. Saiin noted there is a higher percentage of children needing care in the southwestern part of the county. Inman explained the foundation chose Portland because it is where the majority of employers and employees work in the county.

Saiin also suggested divvying up funds to give to local businesses to expand their services instead of building a large-scale daycare.

(Neither the foundation or the county will be running the facility. Instead, a not-for-profit organization — several have expressed interest — would be tasked with its operation.)

Jay County Building and Planning director John Hemmelgarn suggested commissioners hold off on contributing funds based on potential zoning issues.

County attorney Bill Hinkle said the foundation will need an initial commitment and that it will likely hire an architect and submit plans to the state. The county’s contribution would be contingent on meeting building requirements before construction starts, he added.

Hemmelgarn suggested commissioners visit the building before making any decisions, and they agreed to do so.

Brenda Beaty of Redkey requested commissioners host the meeting during the evening so more community members are able to attend. (Council and commissioners have already held several joint sessions in the evening during which the issue has been discussed.) A date will be set after commissioners have toured the facility, possibly in January.

In related news, commissioners also signed a contract with civil engineering firm Butler, Fairman and Seufert to conduct a $14,500 feasibility study on the land south and east of Jay County Highway Department. If American Rescue Plan Act funds are committed toward housing, and if the land is found feasible for it, the county would consider constructing infrastructure in the area for housing development.