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City chooses new daycare provider for Sprouts facility

ASTORIA — Bumble Art Studio, a part-time preschool in Astoria, will take over day care operations at a city-run facility that was set to close in June.

In an unanimous vote Monday night, the Astoria City Council chose Bumble’s proposal to lease the Sprouts Learning Center over a second proposal submitted by Head Start, an early childhood development program that serves low-income families.

Head Start currently offers services out of the Grays School building in Astoria and had proposed partnering with a private childcare provider to offer additional daycare options at the Sprouts building.

City Councilors were pleased to receive both proposals but chose Bumble, in part, because of the active role the city could play in helping the preschool expand.

Ultimately, Bumble plans to offer care and programs to around 60 children ages zero to five. Sprouts Learning Center currently serves around 21 families.

City Councilor Joan Herman noted that Head Start has a stable funding source and is not going anywhere if the city does not sign a lease agreement with them. To Herman, Bumble, which is not able to expand operations at its current location downtown, was a different story.

“Both (are) excellent programs,” she said. “I really want both to be successful longterm and for that reason I’m giving the nod to Bumble.”

Under the lease agreement the city will sign with Bumble, the preschool will not pay rent on the Sprouts facility for the next five years and will be given an annual maintenance stipend of $5,000. Bumble is asking the city to make other improvements to the facility to keep in alignment with the organization’s licensing requirements.

Bumble plans to take over the Sprouts Learning Center this summer and has guaranteed childcare slots to existing Sprouts families. They plan to expand several months later to bring in their part-time preschool students.

Sprouts families who want to continue to be a part of Bumble’s program should expect to see a hike in tuition at that time, said Amy Atkinson, co-owner of Bumble. But Bumble plans to offer scholarships, pursue grant funding and other methods to help families access childcare.

Sprouts Learning Center has operated at a significant financial loss to the city and the parks department has struggled to recruit and retain the part-time workers the facility requires. City leaders decided to close the daycare at the end of June.

But even with care now set to continue at the facility, city leaders acknowledged it doesn’t solve the region’s lack of childcare options, or the staffing and financial challenges many providers face.

Clatsop County — in fact every county in Oregon — is considered a childcare desert.

As he weighed the two proposals during the Monday night meeting, City Councilor Roger Rocka noted that “there’s a certain amount of ‘if-ness’ in both of these proposals in terms of them being able to do what they hope to do.

“And we can get to — I guess, as we go along — which of the proposals we prefer, but we honest to gosh need both.”