The walls are up, and the windows have been installed as the new daycare in Morris continues to take shape. Construction started this past fall on the modular facility that was included in phase two of the expanded federal/provincial ready-to-move daycare project initiative last February.

"I drive by the site often just to see their progress," admitted Jenn Collette, Chairperson for the Morris Early Learning Centre board of directors. "It's resembling a center. It's resembling a new facility. I wasn't sure, you know, when they say how quick they build them, it's hard to wrap your head around that. I was a little bit unsure because ours is the first in the province to get 104 spaces. Ours is the biggest one they're building."

"It is a pinch yourself moment when I drive by there," added Collette, who says this has been a dream of many long-serving board members for years. "It actually makes me emotional thinking about it because, right now in our community, we actually have people who are driving their children outside of the community for childcare. That's a problem. So having that center is going to alleviate a lot of parents and reduce barriers for people receiving childcare."

Construction started this past fall on the modular facility that was included in phase two of the expanded federal/provincial ready-to-move daycare project initiative last February.

Currently, Morris Early Learning Centre is licensed for 58 childcare spaces and operates out of two locations in town. The waitlist, noted Collette, is up to 150. Once the new facility, with it's 46 additional childcare spaces, is complete and up and running, the Board will continue to hang on to its Main Street location, however, Collette says there are no plans for it just yet. 

"We always knew there was a need, but our wait list absolutely just keeps growing every day and we definitely want to provide that early learning experience for children. It's so important," she said, speaking from her own experience as an educator. "I don't think we put enough emphasis on that sometimes, and learning doesn't start at kindergarten. It's way before that. Being able to provide that for our children, our community, is going to be absolutely wonderful."

With the number childcare spaces nearly doubling when the new facility opens, the Board will also be looking to double its staff. Collette is optimistic that, with a few new training opportunities becoming available, they'll be able to fill those positions. For example, she says the Province has provided a number of online options for people to obtain their ECE 2 and ECE 3 credentials. 

"We haven't seen that so much in the past where there's been online training for ECE's, and I think the Province is just seeing the demand and saying, we need to get this program online because we have a lot of people in rural areas where that training is not possible for them to relocate to places like Winnipeg and Brandon. Let's get the training out to communities in Southern Manitoba. 

Additionally, Collette says the Town of Morris has expressed interest in hosting remote training sessions as well. There is also a 40-hour CCA course that allows people to become childcare assistants.

"If you don't have your ECE to work in a facility, after one year you need a 40- hour CCA course," she explained. However, it's a $450 dollar program with the money due up front. It is refunded back to the student if they pass. Still, Collette says the Board sees this as a potential barrier to people earning their certification and is taking action to change that.

"As a center we've said, 'no, we're fronting that money.' We want people trained and we'll front the money. So, that's something we feel is a barrier that we can try and take away for people to get training."

However, Collette noted childcare centres in Manitoba still need two-thirds of their staff to consist of Early Childhood Educators. She feels the exciting opportunity of working for a new, larger centre, like the one going up in the Morris, will also attract and retain workers. 

"It's a definite upgrade and it's just wonderful to the excitement from people in the community," she added. "I've just heard a lot of really positive conversations just around being able to offer that care for people. And with the new federal $10 a day (childcare), that definitely also entices people."

There is no timeline for opening, but Collette is optimistic for this fall.