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St. Francis Childcare raising money for move to larger space

Canyon Cardinal, 4, center left, with director Heidi Bugbee and other students  at the child care center at St. Francis Extended Health Care Tuesday, August 13, 2013, in Bellingham. Last year the childcare made a gingerbread house tribute for Canyon's mother, who died of cancer in October 2012.
Canyon Cardinal, 4, center left, with director Heidi Bugbee and other students at the child care center at St. Francis Extended Health Care Tuesday, August 13, 2013, in Bellingham. Last year the childcare made a gingerbread house tribute for Canyon's mother, who died of cancer in October 2012. THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

After 29 years at its original location on Squalicum Parkway, St. Francis Childcare will move across town to a larger space at Mt. Baker Care Center — a change that will include a new, as yet to be determined, name.

The nonprofit St. Francis Foundation, which started the center, has launched a fund-raising campaign to help pay for the $450,000 project. Estimated costs include:







The childcare and preschool center has received a $200,000 loan from Peoples Bank and $50,000 from Avamere Health Services, which owns St. Francis of Bellingham at 3121 Squalicum Parkway.

“Our goal, really, is for the parents to have seamless services. We have 65 families that are counting on us to figure it out,” said Heidi Bugbee, director of St. Francis Childcare.

Avamere has decided to renovate the Squalicum Parkway facility to develop a premier rehabilitation center, according to Bugbee, a project that includes the space now occupied by the childcare center.

“We’ve been grateful for the opportunity to be here for 29 years. We’re excited we have another place to go,” Bugbee said.

The Squalicum Parkway property houses both elder care and child care.

That’s because nearly three decades ago, St. Francis Childcare pioneered a program in which the elderly and children play and learn together, according to Bugbee. That approach earned it a lot of attention and press coverage, including a story in People magazine.

Bugbee said that inter-generational program will continue with the residents at Mt. Baker Care Center, which also is donating the space to the childcare center.

Catherine Reis-El Bara, administrator for Mt. Baker Care Center, described a number of benefits to having the program at the nursing home.

“We feel that it’s a great way to enhance the quality of life for our residents,” she said, adding that many don’t get regular visits with young children but love to be around them. “It’s a great way to enhance the lives of the children.”

And, she said, having the childcare center at Mt. Baker also helps the community.

“If we were to lose that resource that would be a sad thing,” Reis-El Bara said. “As a parent, I know how hard it is to find good childcare.”

Having a larger, 7,000-square-foot space will allow the childcare center to serve twice as many kids, a much-needed expansion given the 160 children on its waiting list and the closure this summer of three other local childcare centers.

“It’s tough. We’re definitely kind of at a crisis. Child care is a huge need for us right now. You can tell that by the number of kids on our waiting list,” Bugbee said.

More than 200 childcare spots, including for hard-to-find infant care, were lost when those three centers closed, according to Julie Wasilewski, professional development coordinator for the five-county Child Care Aware of Northwest Washington.

“There’s some serious impact,” Wasilewski said.

Child Care Aware of Northwest Washington helps refer families and assesses childcare needs in different communities.

There’s another reason for St. Francis Childcare’s long waiting list.

“They’re known as being one of the great programs of Whatcom County,” Wasilewski said.

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