Y expanding child care into Crown Drug building

80 more child care spots

The YMCA of Grays Harbor is expanding its childcare services into a neighboring building, doubling staffing and capacity for childcare, and renovating a historic building in the process.

The former Crown Drug building, just east of their Hquiam location on Simpson Avenue was purchased by the YMCA last year. CEO Franzine Potts told the Hoquiam City Council in a briefing last week that the plan is to renovate the building into a childcare facility that would employ 10 to 12 staff people and support up to 80 children. They are hoping that the new facility could open by January of 2022.

Potts said they could sure use the extra room. The Y’s current licensed-daycare program serves children from age 3 to 12 years 11 months, and has been running at close to its 80-child capacity since last summer.

Administrators began to secure funds for an expansion in early 2020 with an $800,000 state Department of Commerce grant, and a Grays Harbor Community Foundation grant for $208,000. She added, “we have a private donor match of $100,000 (and) we received an HVAC (COVID specific) renovation grant for $100,000. Then we have another private donor match for the playground for $35,000.” So far they have about $1.2 million in secured funding and are hopeful for positive news about funding from the current state legislative session.

State business leaders have called attention to the need for affordable childcare for their workers and there has been bipartisan agreement on the need.

The building is on the corner of Simpson Avenue and Ontario Street and across an alley from the YMCA building. Potts said the YMCA signed an agreement to purchase the building in May of 2020. But it wasn’t easy to just move out of the historic building. The business itself has been there since the 1950s.

Owner Greg Grun needed time to transition his business, adding to that timeline. Potts said, “I don’t know if you recall, but then also, a car drove through the front of the building. So there was insurance that had to become involved.” So the group agreed to wait until January 1, 2021, to transition ownership completely. She added that they looked at other options last year,.” We also own property on the same block. So we considered what we could do with that, but ideally, this was the location we wanted.”

Keeping historic look

Renovations to the former Crown Drug building will feature a nod to its past, and its place on Hoquiam’s historic registry. Their design team has been busy carving out room for a play area between the building and the alley, expanding the entryway and highlighting the historic nature of the former drug store, as well as forming a parking and pick-up plan for parents. Potts explained that the current entryway will be expanded forward and they plan to maintain the same storefront look.

Polson Museum director John Larson said Crown Drug has been in that location since the 1950s, and the parking lot was quite the cruising spot when Simpson Avenue featured two-way traffic, up until about 1971. Larson is also on the historic preservation commission and oversaw the building’s addition to the historic registry. He said it was a little challenging to find the line between modification and preservation for the new business. “Our philosophy was to make sure that this fabulous project could go forward, and still redesign things, without changing the essential character-defining features of the building.” The YMCA hired architect Al Gozart to design the new fake storefront, and they worked closely with the historic preservation commission to find that balance.

“So those will still have the same look and feel,” but Potts said it will still look like a YMCA, with “a Y look and a Y feel. But it will still have this glass storefront look, and the Crown’s (signage) will still be used as well.”

So now that they’re in the 4,900 square-foot space, Potts said they’d like to build a secure walkway between the building and the alley doors on the YMCA. They submitted a request to the Hoquiam City Council that the city vacate the alley. The council discussed it during its meeting earlier this month and many agencies came forward expressing interest in maintaining access to the alley, the Grays Harbor PUD and the natural gas provider were among them.

To get back and forth between the Y and the new building, kids and staff could either walk along the sidewalk of Simpson Avenue or through a secured fenced area between the buildings.

Potts said that doors at the rear of the YMCA building would be very useful if there was a fence that secured them to the new play area and new building, but they would pose a security risk if people were trying to come and go from those doors in an open alley between a playground area, a childcare center, and the back of the YMCA. In order for them to build a fence to secure the pathway between the two buildings, Potts says they need full access to cross the alley, but the services mentioned are at the other end of the alley so she doesn’t feel it will be an issue.

The city council directed staff to draft an ordinance vacating the alley. The ordinance will be reviewed and discussed further at the next council meeting.

DAVE HAVILAND | THE DAILY WORLD The YMCA of Grays Harbor has requested the vacation of the alley between their building and the site of their new child care service, the former Crown Drug store.