A former lighting store just north of Albertville Premium Outlet’s Promenade side will soon become the embodiment of new life, with a childcare business called Laurel Academy Early Learning Center planning to renovate the building and open an eight-classroom facility.
The Albertville city council recently approved Laurel Academy’s site and building plan and conditional use permit to allow a daycare facility to be established at 6558 Laketowne Place. The building has been vacant since its former occupant, Minnesota Lighting and Fireplace, closed their doors in 2009.
Laurel Academy will be owned and operated by Jeri Chalmers and Nicole Tessmer, two women with experience as both early childhood educators and directors of childcare centers. They intend to serve children ages six weeks to 5 years old, with a maximum enrollment of 132 children. In addition to the eight classrooms, the facility will include two kitchens, two playgrounds with fencing, and office space. Laurel Academy hopes to be up and running by the end of October at best case scenario, but no later than the end of 2018. Renovation of the building begins Wednesday, Aug. 1.
Chalmers and Tessmer chose to locate in Albertville because there currently aren’t any options for center-based childcare in town, and they said they know that a high proportion of young children live in Towne Lakes and the many new neighborhoods along MacIver Ave. just behind Towne Lakes.
Chalmers said she and Tessmer have both worked in childcare for many years and each had dreams of opening their own centers. The pair wanted to start their own childcare business where they can run the classrooms with their own ideas and an emphasis on preschool curriculum.
“It got to a point where we said you know, we can do it better,” Chalmers said. “We want to implement curriculum the way it’s meant to be done.”
For one, this means lowering student-to-teacher ratios during key times of the day. For instance, the state of Minnesota mandates one teacher for every ten preschool age children, but Laurel Academy will bring that number down to 1 teacher per 8 students during learning times. Toddler rooms must have a ratio of one teacher per 7 children, but they will reduce the ratio to 1:5 during diapering and learning times. Infants must have 1 teacher for every 4 babies, but Laurel Academy will maintain a ratio of 1:3 all the time.
Additionally, Tessmer said more of Laurel Academy’s teachers will be teacher qualified than in a typical daycare center. The teachers will teach in teams to be able to give more individualized attention to children during high-need times, and they will reduce staff to state standards during recess, naptime and other lower-need times of the day.
“We just want to make sure that there’s a really high standard for the curriculum, and that it’s being implemented,” Chalmers said. “We want our teachers to be highly qualified; we don’t want aides serving as lead teachers. And we want our ratios of staff members to children lower than our state standards.”
A Good Pair
The business partners complement one another well, they said, because Chalmers has more experience with pre-k age students and a background in preschool curriculum, while Tessmer has worked more with the younger infant and toddler age groups. Tessmer will become Laurel Academy’s director, dealing with staff, families and office work, while Chalmers will serve as the center’s curriculum coordinator.
If You’re Interested
Tessmer said Laurel Academy’s website is under construction now, and they plan to create social media pages and send informational mailers out to surrounding neighborhoods as renovations ramp up and they get a firmer timeline for completion. She said they will also hang a banner from the building with contact information for interested families.
“Childcare is an expensive investment, and we want to make that investment worthwhile,” Chalmers said. “We want to make sure your child is getting the best care from the best and most qualified teachers we can find.”