Kalispell Planning Board Approves New Childcare Center

The facility would accommodate 100 kids under age 6; the Kalispell City Council is scheduled to vote on the conditional use permit on June 5

By Maggie Dresser
Children make crafts at Growing Roots Early Learning Center in Kalispell on Oct. 13, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Kalispell Planning Board on Tuesday approved a conditional use permit for a daycare center at Northridge Lutheran Church that would potentially serve up to 100 children under age 6.

Immanuel Lutheran Communities, an assisted living facility, is partnering with Northridge Lutheran Church to establish the daycare, which would initially accommodate 48 children.

Located in an established single-family residential neighborhood with a middle school to the south, residents in the area were concerned about increased traffic, noise and outdoor space that the church currently shares with the public.

“There’s a lot of traffic on Northridge Drive as it is right now and if we put a daycare in there, at 6:30 in the morning, we’re going to have a lot of traffic as people drop off their kids,” said a resident during public comment. “So I am a little concerned about the noise and traffic and the growth of the daycare.”

If the daycare grows to accommodate 73 children, city officials would be required to conduct a traffic impact study before allowing the daycare to expand to 100 children.

Last fall, Immanuel Lutheran Communities opened a licensed childcare center to help recruit and retain employees for their assisted living facility and to meet the high demand for daycare.

Using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, the nonprofit company launched the Growing Roots Early Learning Center on Crestline Avenue in Kalispell that serves 40 kids. The Northridge location would be part of the company’s long-term plan to serve 100 children.

Immanuel Lutheran Communities has struggled in recent years to maintain a full staff of 300 employees in a tight labor market and managers have been working to grow the company’s employee benefit packages, which includes childcare.

According to recent Montana Department of Labor and Industry (DLI) data, an estimated 6% of the state’s labor force relies on childcare arrangements to remain in the labor force, while a state survey reveals that 57% of businesses in Montana indicated a shortage of affordable childcare. In the same survey, 40% of business owners said the shortage was impacting their ability to recruit or retain qualified workers and 30% said inadequate childcare prevented the company from growing.

Providers, business owners and community leaders have been involved in conversations with the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce Child Care Task Force, which was launched last year to bring more childcare centers to the Flathead Valley.

The Kalispell City Council will vote on the conditional use permit on June 5.