The Greater Watertown Community Health Foundation announced Tuesday it has purchased the former Bethesda corporate office building and 90 adjacent acres for $16 million on the city’s south side to lay the groundwork for a new YMCA, expanded child care and more affordable housing.
Over the next 10 months, the former corporate center will be renovated, reopening in the summer of 2023 as The Collective, said Tina Crave, Foundation president and CEO.
She said there is more than 55,000-square-feet over the three floors in the building allowing The Collective to house a new YMCA Child Care and Early Education Center, satellite Express YMCA, Jefferson County Head Start, and nonprofit co-working spaces.
Development of The Collective and its adjacent property is the next step in the Foundation’s vision of vibrant communities where everyone enjoys good health and well being, Crave said.
“The Collective is a dream we’ve explored behind the scenes for many years,” Crave said. After exploring several options, from building new to repurposing space, we are excited to bring these dreams to life at this location.”
The total capital costs to purchase the 90 acres, renovate and finish the 55,000-square-foot Collective are budgeted at $16 million. Jefferson and Dodge counties have each allocated $200,000 and the City of Watertown allocated $400,000 of its American Rescue Plan Act funding to support The Collective’s goals of increasing access to quality child care in the region.
Crave also said the housing inventory is way down in Dodge and Jefferson counties, but the prices of them has increased. She said by 2030, Dodge County will be short 1,597 and Jefferson County will be short 2,422 units, respectively.
She said by also acquiring the 90 acres of land it will assist in building affordable to senior housing and everything in between.
Watertown Mayor Emily McFarland expressed her appreciation to the Foundation for their work in creating additional child care slots.
“One of the goals our city council set was to use our ARPA funds in a manner that the impact of the funds lasted well beyond the funding itself,” said Emily McFarland, Watertown mayor. “There is no doubt about it that our community needs more child care slots. I’ve seen the data and I’ve heard it during nearly every business visit I’ve done. I’m thankful to the Foundation for leading this effort, to the YMCA for being an incredible community partner, and to the city council for allocating this level of involvement. It will make an incredible impact on workforce availability, on the families in our community, and on children in care. In government, you don’t always get the opportunity to be a proactive and strategic leader of change. I’m thrilled we get to be a part of that with this project.”
Since 2017, the Foundation has facilitated Every Child Thrives, a partnership of 50-plus agencies in Dodge and Jefferson counties working to ensure all children thrive in health, learning and life.
Crave said there is not enough child care for children 5 and under in Watertown.
“We’re officially a child-care desert,” Crave said.
She said the average child-care fees in Dodge and Jefferson counties are approximately $11,000 annually with the basic care for infants costing $16,000 and toddlers amounting to $13,000.
Crave said Watertown lost 100-plus early child-care slots between 2017 and 2020. Since the pandemic, the region lost an additional 127 early child-care slots.
She said the community benefits of The Collective will add more quality care for infants and toddlers and will also include:
• Creation of a new, high-quality early care and education center with capacity to serve 126 children. The center will offer better than industry average wages for staff and the YMCA intends to develop relationships with area businesses related to childcare fees for their employees to stabilize the child care industry as a whole.
• Sharing of office space, resources and services to provide efficiencies for nonprofit service providers, allowing agencies to focus time and attention on those they serve;
• Shared professional development to support healthy lifestyles; and,
• Eighty-plus acres of housing development. A needs assessment is being completed now and a community master planning process will launch in late 2022 to identify how the neighborhood can address the housing shortage affecting all demographics in the region.
“The Collective is more than just a work space,” Crave said. “It’s a catalyst for our mission, which is to inspire collaboration, mobilize resources and encourage innovation that measurably contributes to the wellbeing of our community.”
The Collective will serve as an innovation center, piloting best practices for childcare business sustainability. Outreach from The Collective to early care and education providers in Dodge and Jefferson counties will connect the providers with resources to improve quality of care.
The Watertown Area YMCA also announced its plans for The Collective to be the future home of the new, full-size YMCA, which would be constructed in two phases based on the support of community donors.
YMCA CEO Jon Lange said the first phase would relocate current operations from the old Watertown High School with amenities including a gymnasium, wellness and free weight center, aerobic activity studios and youth center. The second phase would center on the addition of a state-of-the-art aquatic center facility for instruction, recreation and water safety.
“We like to say it’s the last new space of the old YMCA and the first space of the new YMCA (to be added),” Lange said.