Preschool set to move forward with Veterans Park site

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
The Swannanoa Valley Child Care Council, the governing body of Children and Friends Enrichment Center in Black Mountain, plans to build a 10,000-square-foot daycare facility on this site on the southern end of Veterans Park.

A proposed daycare will bring big changes to one of Black Mountain’s busiest parks.

On April 8, Asheville Design Center presented aldermen with a preliminary concept for the site of a 10,000-square-foot daycare facility on the south side of Veterans Park. The facility, which would allow Black Mountain preschool Children and Friends Enrichment Center to double its capacity, could be up early next year. 

A master plan for Veterans Park, which is bisected by I-40 and contains baseball and softball fields, an 18-hole disc golf course and the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden, was adopted in the fall of 2016. Included in the document were plans to expand the garden, which moved to the site in 2004.

In June of 2017, the town voted to rezone the 10 acres of Veterans Park south of the interstate from town residential to office and institutional. The move made the zoning designation of the south side of the park consistent with the north side's designation.

Members of the community around White Pine Drive expressed concerns about the impact a daycare facility could have on the intersection at Blue Ridge Road, citing the increased traffic that would result from it. 

The town is currently developing a small area plan for Blue Ridge Road, between the site of the future interchange and N.C. 9. The purpose of the plan is to keep pace with the growth of the area that will result from the interchange and the arrival of Avadim Technologies, Inc., which is slated to bring 551 jobs to the Swannanoa Valley. 

Rezoning the property, which is accessible by White Pine Drive, not only cleared the way for making improvements to the garden, it opened up a potential location for the preschool to expand.

John DeWitt, who sits on the board of the daycare and serves as the chair on the Verner Center for Early Learning board, approached town officials in 2016 about the possibility of using a portion of the land near the Dr. John Wilson Community Garden for the purpose of expanding the daycare.

The need for more child care in the area, according to DeWitt, is urgent.

"There are 170 kids on the waiting list at Verner," he said. "We have about 72 on the waiting list at Children and Friends."

After spending much of 2016 looking for a place to build a new facility, DeWitt approached the town about the possibility of using a portion of the land in Veterans Park as the site. 

In December of 2017, aldermen voted 5-0 to approve a memorandum of understanding between the town and the daycare's governing board, Swannanoa Child Care Council, Inc. The agreement expressed the town's willingness to support the not-for-profit organization's efforts to build on the site.  

Children and Friends has operated out of several locations in Black Mountain since its founding in 1979. As the population of the Swannanoa Valley continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for parents to find child care. 

"You can't find it," DeWitt said of child care in the area. "I tell people all the time if you're even thinking about getting pregnant then you better get on a waiting list right now. You couldn't find a place that could take a baby right now."

As businesses like Avadim, which is set to open just outside of Black Mountain in the coming years, move into the Swannanoa Valley, quality child care is a priority, DeWitt said. 

"People won't want to put their kid in a one-star daycare," he said. "We're a five-star daycare, which means we provide quality care. We can't wait any longer."

Children and Friends missed out on a grant the organization applied for in 2018, but continued to find funding from other sources. 

The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners supported the facility with a $200,000 grant in October of 2018.

Black Mountain mayor Don Collins spoke in support of the daycare to county representatives, based on the need for quality child care in the community. 

The Black Mountain Kiwanis Club contributed $50,000 to the project, as did Montreat Presbyterian Church. DeWitt learned on April 10 that the Cannon Foundation awarded $75,000 to help build the daycare. 

"We're currently negotiating for the rest of it through a bank loan," he said. "We've been approved by two or three banks already for around $280,000."

Children and Friends and the Town of Black Mountain commissioned ADC to do a feasibility study for the daycare on the site and develop concepts for improvements to the community garden. 

Chris Joyell, the executive director of ADC, told aldermen during their April meeting that the two projects had the potential to conflict with, or complement, each other.

“We recruited a team of two architects,” Joyell said. “A landscape architect and a civil engineer volunteered their time with us to engage the people involved with the community garden, those involved with the (daycare) as well as member of the public to develop these designs.”

Project manager Tania McCamy presented the initial concepts for both projects to the board. 

The ADC plan calls for the daycare facility to sit on a plateau, just north of the fire station on White Pine Drive, overlooking the park and community garden. To fit the structure on the site, developers would have to remove the small garage and clear the trees. 

DeWitt said the daycare facility could open in the location by 2020. 

"We're meeting with a builder next week," he said on April 10. "We are looking at a prefabricated building and we will hire a local contractor to complete the site work. We're looking at a six- to eight-month timeline."

McCamy unveiled early concepts for expanding the garden as well, including an open air pavilion, secure storage area and the addition of rustic elements to enhance the current space. 

There is no timeline on the redevelopment of the garden yet, according to town manager Josh Harrold. 

"If and when we decide to proceed with any of the recommendations then we would need to set money aside, raise funds or go after grant funds to complete them," he said. "Currently, we don't have money set aside for that project. The design itself is not finished yet, so we're awaiting a final design to have an idea of what it would cost."

Children and Friends will begin fundraising efforts in the community to raise another $100,000 to help complete the interior of the building. 

"The first 2,000 days of a child's life are the most critical for development," DeWitt said. "The impact of not having adequate childcare can have a tremendous cost on the youth of our community, we can't afford not to do this."