La Crescent families are already signing up their children to attend First Lutheran’s expanded preschool and child care center, which is expected to open next June after the $815,000 construction project is completed.

According to Pastor Chris Christenson, the interior construction of the First Steps Early Learning Center is scheduled to begin this month and wrap up in the spring and is planned to open the first week of June.

The center will connect to the church through a hallway, and comprise of an infant room, toddler room, two preschool classrooms and an additional room to accommodate around 60 children. Little Lambs preschool director and teacher Alyssa Schwartz said a list of names is already being compiled for next year, but there are openings still available.

The existing First Lutheran’s Little Lamb Preschool, currently located in the basement of the church, has around 20-30 children enrolled each year. Preschool, along with the addition of infant care, will be moved to the new early learning center.

“In the La Crescent community itself, there’s only one other center that takes infants, so there is a high demand,” said Schwartz. “It’s to the point where basically, when a mother finds out she’s pregnant, she needs to start looking for childcare. Just because it’s so hard to find right now.”

Christenson said the cost of a new building was less than it would’ve cost to renovate the church basement with the necessary updates required for infant care. Along with having upgraded facilities that suit child care regulations, Christenson said the new building will allow the parish to meet comfortably together in the basement after services, without having to remove all of the preschool settings beforehand.

First Lutheran started Little Lambs in 2000, and in 2001 purchased the La Crescent Childcare Center located on North Elm Street for $135,000. The congregation made improvements to the property, and renamed it to the La Crescent Christian Childcare Center. The LCCC operated for 12 years before congregation members voted in 2013 to have the child care and preschool moved to church property, and operate from the same location. In 2014, First Lutheran sold the property on Elm street for $99,900, which was used to help fund the new early learning center.

A motion was passed by the Board of Lay Ministry in a June meeting to move forward with the expansion, with the total construction costs not exceeding $815,000.

At a previous meeting, the board recommended having the congregation do some of the insulating, sheet rock work, painting and shingling, which was estimated to save the parish around $50,000. Christenson said that pledges made by members of the congregation financed the remaining construction costs for the new building.

“So really, it’s the gift of our Christian family,” said Christenson, who said pledges will not be individually honored anywhere in the new building. “The members of the congregation know this is our mission, and what we do in our ministry. They don’t give to be recognized. We give it all to the glory of God.”