New Child Care Facility & Discovery Center to serve northeast Iowa families and businesses

Aerial exterior view of the proposed Child Development & Discovery Center ... Submitted image.

Sunflower Child Development Center with assistance from Winneshiek County Development and Tourism (WCDT) will be constructing a new Child Development and Discovery Center in Decorah in 2022. In March, the project was awarded a $760,000 Child Care Challenge-Investing in Iowa’s Childcare grant from the Iowa Department of Human Services, one of the largest such awards in the state.

WCDT Executive Director Stephanie Fromm recently announced a capital campaign to raise $4 million dollars in private contributions to help fund the project. According to Fromm, the Sunflower Board and staff have been working with WCDT for over two years to plan the new facility.

“WCDT, Decorah Jobs, and many area businesses recognized that this child care crisis was impacting our children, families, schools, workforce, business growth and community vitality. We decided it was time for everyone to step up and help. WCDT has helped with grant writing and administration, marketing and outreach, and partnership building for the project. We have been blessed to be able to bring in so many great local, state and federal partners to help with business planning, facility design, and to provide funding for the project,” From shared.

Sunflower currently has a waiting list of 140 children. Fromm noted that this is not uncommon anymore.

“There’s a childcare crisis happening right now throughout the midwest,” she explained. “Many of the child care providers in the region are overwhelmed by the need but are already at capacity. There are more children needing childcare than there are available spaces. Young families are struggling to stay in or return to our communities because of it. Our employers are impacted by the lack of available workforce and our public schools are seeing a severe decline in enrollment. This is the first step in an ambitious effort to make our region family friendly.”

The innovative business plan and facility design for the project have been heralded as a model for rural child care facilities across the state of Iowa, receiving recognition from the Iowa Rural Development Council, Iowa Women’s Foundation, and also funding from the Winneshiek County Community Foundation.

Fromm notes, “The Discovery Center will not only be a great indoor STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) learning and fun play space for children, infants to 12 years, but also, by being open to the public, it will provide revenue to offset costs of facility operations, and help Sunflower increase employee pay and benefits. The proposed facility also incorporates sustainable design components, including passive solar design, energy conservation, a 100 kW solar array, and a geothermal system. It will replace a degraded and problematic child care building that currently serves 123 children and add 97 new child care spaces, which will help the region address the severe child care shortage.”

The Discovery Center wing of the facility will have two large indoor play spaces and six STEAM learning areas designed to encourage active play and learning. It will also have a multi-purpose room that can be rented for children’s parties, a planetarium, outdoor play spaces, special educational programming, and special events for children and families. The Discovery Center will be utilized by students who attend the child care during the day and then open to children and families on evenings and weekends through annual membership and day-use passes. Fromm noted that school groups, home schoolers and other day care providers will also be able to utilize the Discovery Center through scheduling during the day, helping enhance learning for children from throughout the region.

The project website,, has been set up to provide more information about the project. The website has details about why the project is occurring, the plans for the facility, and a video about the project. Donations are being accepted online through the website or can be dropped off at Decorah Bank and Trust. Questions can be directed to Stephanie Fromm at WCDT, 563-382-6061.