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New Li'l Lumberjacks and Kids Corner facility unveiled

A ribbon-cutting ceremony followed by an open house took place Thursday, Sept. 22, to celebrate the new space.

Ribbon-cutting ceremony
Officials get ready to cut the ribbon to celebrate the opening of the new Li'l Lumberjacks and Kids Corner location in the Pine Tree Plaza in Cloquet on Thursday, Sept. 22, 2022. They are, from left, Diana Munter, Robin Hanks, Melissa Juntunen, Ted Lammi, Darla Pappas, Erin Bates and Caitlin McCollum.
Jake Przytarski / Cloquet Pine Journal
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CLOQUET — Officials celebrated the grand opening of the new Li’l Lumberjacks and Kids Corner location with a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday, Sept. 22, as members of the public were invited to tour the new 9,000-square-foot facility for the first time.

The celebration comes after an 18-month exploration process to search for a suitable new site, followed by a speedy 10-week rush to prepare the new space.

“It was actually kind of amazing how quickly it went from having no place to go to being able to move, and I can’t believe that it was done at such a speed that it was done at,” Cloquet Community Education Director Erin Bates said. “They literally built that out within like 10 weeks from an empty space to a full-sized facility that we needed.”

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Li'l Lumberjacks Program Director Darla Pappas and Kids Corner Program Coordinator Caitlin McCollum pose for a photo in front of the new sign at the Pine Tree Plaza Space in Cloquet, Thursday, Sept. 22.
Jake Przytarski / Cloquet Pine Journal

The sheer scope of the project had Li’l Lumberjacks lead toddler teacher Rachel Sanda worried that it may not be finished in time. Thanks to help from the Cloquet football team and National Honor Society members, the centers were able to officially open on Sept. 6-7, beginning with Li’l Lumberjacks.
“Darla (Pappas) took me here within like the first few weeks of signing the lease, and I kind of looked around and I was like, ‘Oh geez this is a big job,’ but in the end, everything just kept coming together,” Sanda said. ”... We had a couple of mishaps with flooring or other various things, but we ended up with a great center that we’re all proud of.”

The Li’l Lumberjacks child care program, previously located inside Cloquet High School, serves children from 6-weeks-old to the first day of kindergarten on a year-round basis. Kids Corner accommodates school-age children through fourth grade and was previously split with sites at Churchill and Washington elementary schools.

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The decision to move to a larger facility was made to accommodate larger incoming class sizes within the Cloquet School District. Bates said the expansion will be fully realized once they are able to hire more staffing.

“We still need to hire on a couple of staff before we can start adding kids there,” Bates shared. “For our Kids Corner right now, we’re kinda waiting to kind of get settled in. So right now we have a few families on the waiting list, but now once we kind of get settled in and kind of learn the new routines for check-in, check-out, busing and that sort of thing then we’ll be able to bring on more kids.”

The cost savings associated with the move to a single site will aid Bates’ ultimate goal of serving more families.

“We don’t need as many staff, so it’s easier to find staffing and then that helps keep the cost down, because another part of the issue is the cost of child care,” Bates said. “So by doing this move, it really helps us to really control our costs which means we can control our rates.”

Bates thanked community partners Northland Foundation, the city of Cloquet, Carlton County, First Children’s Finance, and Miner’s Incorporated for making it all possible.

Li’l Lumberjacks and Kids Corner received grants that covered approximately $150,000 of the costs, according to information shared at the April 25 Cloquet School Board meeting. Miners Inc. covered expenses exceeding $150,000 for the approximately $400,000 project. The privately-owned company is headquartered in Hermantown, owns the Pine Tree Plaza and operates 29 Super One Foods grocery stores.

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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