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WATCH: Lee Container Affiliate Daycare Open to Centerville Parents

By Nick Davis, October 11, 2017

Workers at one area manufacturer have one less thing to worry about after their employer has taken steps to address a citywide shortage of childcare providers.

Centerville manufacturer Lee Container announced, in August, that an affiliate would purchase the former Garfield Elementary School with the goal of opening a new daycare facility.

Jay Dillard, Administrative Coordinator at Lee Container, says the more than $100,000 investment is about making sure that not only his employees, but the entire community has a place to send their kids for childcare.

“Really Robert’s desire and need was to reach out to not only our employees but also to the community,” Dillard told Ottumwa Radio News. “To meet that need of Daycare that is so essential here in our community of Centerville.”

He says company President Robert Varnedoe began talking about the project as early as 2014. Varnedoe took over the reins of the company in 2012 following the retirement of founder Donald Lee.

Robert Varnedoe, then the Vice President of Sales for Lee Container, announced the purchase of the former Centerville Rubbermaid facility in November, 2007.

Dillard says a goal of the daycare benefit is to attract qualified employees who might otherwise stay out of the workforce because of childcare issues.

“I think any manufacturer is going to deal with retention issues and trouble with hiring. That’s anywhere in the United States,” Dillard says. “We’re in no way immune to that problem. We’re a company that is committed to making sure you have top-notch benefits and that we are an attractive company that you can come and be a part of our family and make a future here for you and your family.”

Amber Mathes, a Quality Control Leader at Lee Container, says she has seen co-workers who have major problems finding childcare.

“One of my friends that worked here was looking for a daycare. She can’t really find anything with any opening or anybody to watch her child.” Mathes goes on to say, “I know a lot of them here need the daycare, they don’t have anywhere else for their kids to go.”

Jay Dillard agrees, saying he has seen great interest in the new benefit from employees with young families.

Dillard says Lee Container, which manufacturers hard plastic jugs and containers, is not in the childcare business. Therefore, they’ve contracted with Curious Kids Childcare, a pre-existing Centerville daycare, to operate the new facility.

Michelle Brooke, owner of Curious Kids Childcare, says that while the building still needs to undergo some renovations, the facility is open today in the former Garfield School.

“And they’re loving it. The first couple of days the kids were here they didn’t even want to leave the building,” Brooke said. “We came down and played on the playground before, we were just a few blocks away. A lot of the kids had gone to Garfield when it was a school. Just to have more space to open up and play in has been great for them.”

Jay Dillard says Lee Container is still working out the details of how the benefit will be given to the employees. The daycare is expected to open to staff at Lee Container during November, but Dillard says a firm date has not yet been set.

An official ribbon cutting ceremony will take place on October 31st with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Lee Container President Robert Varnedoe planning to be in attendance.

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