Madison poised to donate fire station land so community college can open child care center

Officials say their goal is supporting student parents and other parents as Wisconsinites scramble to find child care

A child colors. Markus Spiske/Unsplash

As parents across the state struggle to find affordable child care providers, a technical college in Madison is set to open a child care facility using land donated by the city.

Madison College officials hope the center will open by the 2025-26 school year, as part of an expansion to the college’s Goodman South campus.

Madison’s Common Council will introduce a draft agreement next week, so alders can eventually vote on approving the sale of the land in south Madison to Madison College for $1. It will be built on property that currently houses a city fire station, which will be torn down, so the new project can break ground in 2024.

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Madison College students studying early childhood education will complete field work alongside mentor teachers at the center, which will also employ students participating in work-study programs.

“Through these activities we will continue to build a pipeline of educated and prepared teachers entering the field of early care and education,” said Jessica Cioci, dean of Madison College’s School of Human and Protective Services.

Cioci said the facility will better support students who are parents. She cited nationwide data showing community college students with children are more likely to struggle to complete their degrees despite maintaining higher grade point averages.

“One of the primary barriers to this program completion is lack of access to quality child care,” Cioci said.

Initially, the center will have capacity for 50 kids ranging from six weeks to 5 years old, though officials said services could eventually be expanded to 100 or more children. The facility will include drop-in availability, and will be open to children of Madison College students as well as to the general public, officials said.

Roughly 54 percent of Wisconsinites live in a child care desert, about three percentage points higher than the national average, according to an analysis from the Center for American Progress. The liberal think tank defined a desert as any census tract with more than 50 children over age 5 where there were either zero licensed child care providers, or so few providers that were more than three times as many kids as chid care slots.

In Madison, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway says at least 2,500 children are on wait lists for child care, and she said the gap is particularly acute on the city’s south side.

“Lack of childcare holds people back from jobs and careers, and it hinders the economic growth of our city and our region,” she said at a news conference Thursday.

The center is being partially funded by a $1.25 million grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, but Madison College President Jack Daniels told reporters Thursday the project’s total price tag remains uncertain as the college continues to raise funds. As part of the agreement awaiting approval by Madison’s Common Council, the college will agree to keep the center operating for at least a decade.

After the land on Badger Road is transferred, Madison’s Fire Station #6 will be temporarily relocated to the Town of Madison Hall on Fish Hatchery Road. The city hopes to open a new fire station to replace it by late 2027 on the ground floor of a mixed-use development that will include a public health clinic and affordable housing at Badger Road and South Park Street.

Madison College currently operates a child care center at its Truax Campus on the city’s north side. Day care fees at the upcoming Goodman South facility will be set on a sliding scale based on income, using the same model as the Truax day care, officials said Thursday.