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Donations help to build child care center in Blooming Prairie

A quarter-million dollars on top of land, buildings donations are bringing 144 child care slots to small community.

Roby, left, and Craig Kruckeberg donated land and two buildings that will become the Leo Augusta Children's Academy, a child care center that can serve up to 144 children, based in Blooming Prairie. Contributed photo

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — Sometime next spring, Leo Augusta Children's Academy will open its doors.

This week, major steps in making that happen have taken place.

On Tuesday, a $250,000 donation will be made to the nonprofit organization that is behind Leo Augusta. Already, work is being done to renovate the two Blooming Prairie buildings that will become the home to the place where children from ages six weeks to 12 years can be cared for.

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The project started when Craig and Robyn Kruckeberg decided to donate two buildings that had been home to their previous business in town – Minimizer, an after-market truck parts manufacturer – to build the new childcare center. The buildings, combined, have 18,000 square feet of space, and the land surrounding the buildings is more than 3 acres, said Amy Hinzmann, board chairwoman for Leo Augusta Children's Academy and CFO/COO at Kruckeberg Industries.

Hinzmann said there are no childcare centers in Blooming Prairie now, and the at-home childcare businesses don't have the capacity to meet the need in the city and the surrounding community between Austin and Owatonna.

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"A lot of our community members travel to work," Hinzmann said. "This is one way we can bridge that gap and have child care for parents in the community where they live."

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An architectural rendering shows what the Leo Augusta Children's Academy gymnasium and classroom building will look like when completed in March 2022. The new child care center in Blooming Prairie should be operating by the start of April 2022. Contributed photo

To fix the problem, Leo Augusta Children's Academy, a nonprofit, was created earlier this year with the goal of opening and operating a childcare facility.

The land and building donation, she said, has "given us a tremendous jumpstart."

Work has begun transforming a former office space of about 10,000 square feet into classroom space complete with a kitchen. The other building, which is next door, will be converted to both classroom space and a full-sized grade-school gymnasium.

Kruckeberg said after he sold his previous business and it moved out of town, he opened a new business, Stinar Corp. – a manufacturer of aircraft ground support equipment – in Blooming Prairie at a new site. So, with the land at the old location for Minimizer available, he and his wife, Robyn, decided to donate the land to build the childcare center.

Like many employers, Kruckeberg said he knew his employees had trouble finding childcare for their kids.

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"Robyn, in the past, she did in-home daycare," Kruckeberg said. "We had a bunch of employees who would drive 15-miles each way for daycare. And in-home daycare is just not a thing anymore."

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An architectural rendering shows what the Leo Augusta Children's Academy main classroom building will look like when completed in March 2022. The new child care center in Blooming Prairie should be operating by the start of April 2022. Contributed photo

Part of the issue, he said, for smaller childcare businesses is that you'd need state licensing if you plan to take advantage of any government food programs for the kids.

Kruckeberg said he heard about the need not only from his own 30 employees, but from other businesses in town, including a waste-hauling business owned by his son. While his son's company could not offer some of the same benefits as larger waste haulers, the fact that child care will be available in Blooming Prairie has been a draw.

Kruckeberg said Leo Augusta Children's Academy not only will offer child care, but teachers who have four-year degrees. In total, the business plans to hire 30 employees with about 20 being teachers paid comparable wages to those at Blooming Prairie's elementary school.

The $250,000 donation being made Tuesday is part of an effort to raise funds so that when the center opens it won't have any capital costs that need to be paid off.

Of course, Hinzmann said, they will still fundraise in order to help families in need fill the financial gap for tuition and to afford to bring in special instructors who can work with children who might be dealing with a learning or developmental issue.

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"We want to help children who have extra needs," Hinzmann said. "You see children with behavioral or language issues. So we want to hire outside consultants to meet one-on-one to help them get ready for school."

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