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New childcare center still a go
Time line for facility remains uncertain
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Sure, there may have been some miscommunication and misinformation regarding Great Bend Economic Development’s proposed new childcare center. But, while there is no time line for the facility’s ground breaking, the project is moving forward.

That was the gist of a special Barton County Commission study session Wednesday afternoon. Health Director Karen Winkelman was called before the commission to join the discussion and help dispel rumors swirling about the endeavor’s uncertain fate:

• No, GBED has not sought permitting through the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

• No, there isn’t a finalized architectural plan for the building, merely a conceptual drawing.

• While close, the $1.6 million required has not been raised.

By March, GBED had raised $435,000 and at that time, the commission kicked in a matching $435,000 utilizing American Rescue Plan Act money. These pooled funds were used to leverage a grant that brought GBED close to its goal by garnering $1.4 million in their coffers.

• Yes, GBED has activated a separate Advancing Barton County Childcare Board to oversee the effort.

• Yes, property has been purchased for the new building, but ABCC is not prepared to announce the location pending final paperwork.

“Everything’s being done in a way that we’re making sure that this gets off the ground directly and all specifications and regulations are going to be met,” said Matt Patzner, attending the session as county operations director and ABCC Board member.

“We voted on hiring a consultant who has expertise in all of these areas,” like regulations, space requirements and other requirements, he said. “We’re in the process of selecting an architectural firm to begin work on it, working with the consultant to help aid in the design to make sure everything is up to specifications.”

Once that’s done, the plan will be submitted to the KDHE for review which will get back with the ABCC Board on the next steps. “I can’t speak to a definite time line because right now, all I can say is right now we’re moving forward,” he said.

Once the plans are in the KDHE’s hands, it will be at least 90 days before they are finalized, depending on how many revisions need to be made, Patzner said.

“There’s no way it can go faster than it is,” said commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3, a strong advocate for the project. So if there was something promised before this, I wasn’t aware of it. Everybody’s doing everything they can and everybody’s doing it the right way.”

The commission matched the City of Great Bend’s $250,000 to help GBED serve the entire county. Commissioners have echoed GBED President Sara Hayden’s lament that the key roadblocks to economic growth are the needs for workers, housing and childcare. 

“I have to commend the commissioners and everybody involved because we took $435,000, more than doubled it and then applied it to one of the biggest identifiable needs,” Hutchinson said. 

Early in the meeting

The meeting opened with Winkelman giving a time line for how the project developed, and where the confusion may have started. She outlined childcare licensing surveyor Kori Hammeke involvement with some on the commission wondering aloud if she may have had a personality conflict with Hayden.

Housed at the Health Department, Hammeke covered Barton, Ellsworth, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. She is no longer employed by the county.

Winkelman also detailed the many meetings she attended and communications she had with the involved parties. These included Hayden, other childcare providers (some of whom where upset at the county’s involvement with GBED’s center) and the KDHE.

There were brief heated exchanges as commissioners aired their frustration.

“I think needs to continue is more stuff like this,” District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier said, pinning concerns on the lack of communications. “We need to have more meetings like this so we’re more informed.”

There is a public perception that the Health Department is the regulator for childcare and makes the final decisions, said County Counselor Patrick Hoffman. “They do have a role in answering questions from providers, but it’s really up to KDHE whether things can move forward.”

He suggested members of the ABCC Board bring regular updates to the commission.

Winkelman said her department will continue to act as a liaison between the parties.

“One of the things that this board has has really liked about Sarah is that she is a big idea person. She has wonderful ideas, and she’s really good at fundraising,” said District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz. “But she’s leaving it in the hands of a very capable board. And I think that that’s exactly the way everything should look.”


The facility will be a 501c3 non-profit under the umbrella of GBED Advancing Barton County Childcare. Its board will hire a director to run this center and then possible subsequent centers in other county communities.

The facility will provide services for 59 children.

Some of the confusion surrounding the center involved the number of children being served, the hiring of staff and what services would be offered.

The city and the county have each pledged $250,000 to GBED. Of Great Bend’s portion, $70,000 is earmarked for the childcare center.