Child care moving into former flea market site

By on January 18, 2012

By: ANGELA CABEZAS Review Staff acabezas.eph@lnpnews.com, Staff Writer



Standing in front of the old JCPenney building, future site of Wiggles and Giggles Infant and Toddler Center, are Janice Miller, executive director, and Joel Latshaw, director. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)Standing in front of the old JCPenney building, future site of Wiggles and Giggles Infant and Toddler Center, are Janice Miller, executive director, and Joel Latshaw, director. (Photo by Preston Whitcraft)

After weeks of speculation, plans for the former JCPenney and Ephrata Flea Market, located at 19 E. Main St., have finally been revealed.

The building will now be home to Wiggles and Giggles Infant and Toddler Center, an extension of Bethany United Church of Christ’s long-standing child care program.

"We felt that there was a need in the area for this type of center," said Janice Miller, director of Bethany School Age Care, which will continue to operate from the church’s 140 E. Main St. location. "Over the last two years it seems as though almost every week I’ve gotten, on average, two to three calls for either infant or toddler care. We always felt bad telling parents, ‘No, we can’t take your kids.’"

As a result of these requests the church began conducting market studies, which showed that few options were available to parents with babies. As a result, the church began a year-and-a-half search for a day care facility, eventually coming across the flea market property.

"The parents we currently have with small children have shown a lot of excitement about the new center because it is in close proximity (to Bethany School Age Care) and because it’s a sister center," said Miller. "They’ll be able to drop off kids at one spot and then go and drop their other kids at the other one."

Wiggles and Giggles will be open from 6 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. and at full capacity will be able to provide care for 60 children. It will be licensed through the state and operate according to the standards of the Department of Public Welfare. Additionally, it will be part of the Keystone STARS program, which rates centers on staff qualifications and professional development, early learning programs, partnerships with family and community, and leadership and management.

Before any of this can be achieved, however, serious renovations must take place.

"Everything’s going to get a face-lift," explained Joel Latshaw, who will give up his job as assistant director at Bethany School Age Care to take on the role of director for Wiggles and Giggles. "It’s just one big open space right now, so there’ll have to be walls for classrooms, and new drywall and new paint. It will be given an updated, cleaned-up look."

The ground floor, where the day care will be located, is not the only part of the facility that will be remodeled. The apartments on the top floors will undergo extensive construction as well.

"There are six one-bedroom apartments and one two-bedroom apartment, and they need a great deal of work," said Joel’s mother Kim Latshaw, who, along with her husband Dale, purchased the property with the agreement to rent the lower portion to Bethany UCC. "There are some electrical and plumbing issues, and we’re putting a new roof on the building. We’re also going to put in new windows, updated kitchens, new baths, new flooring and fresh paint — pretty much start all over."

Renovations will begin as soon as the building permits are obtained, with hopes that all seven apartments will be ready by June.

"It’s an exciting new project, and we’re anxious to get it started," Kim stated. "We’re going to turn the building around and make it look really nice — make it something to be proud of in downtown Ephrata."

As for the infant and toddler center, Joel and Miller hope to welcome the first tiny customers by April or May.

"We’re wishing it was spring and ready to go," said Joel. "It’s been hectic."

Overall, he and Miller describe the process of opening the center as "enlightening."

"It’s been very educational," he said. "We’ve learned a lot about codes and zoning. I don’t know that it’s been hard, but it’s been a year, year and half that we’ve been trying to do this."

"Finding a location was the most difficult, because I knew that I wanted to keep it close to our existing center," added Miller. "It was also hard just finding something that was easily accessible for parking, traffic patterns, things like that, and that would work for the local zoning. From that instance it was sometimes a little challenging."

Another obstacle for the pair was laying out the day care in a way that did not violate the Borough of Ephrata’s ordinance regarding the Retail Overlay District (ROD).

According to the borough’s codebook, the ordinance is "intended to promote retail stores, restaurants and other pedestrian-oriented uses in the heart of downtown Ephrata and to enhance the character of the streetscape." It also states that the ROD, the first 30 feet of depth of the ground floor of buildings fronting on Main Street from Church Street to Lake Street; State Street from Sugar Alley to Locust Street; and Locust Street from Mentzer Alley to and including Tax Map Parcel No. 7M7B-12-1, Main Street, may only be used for purposes pre-approved by the borough.

Some of the approved uses of the ROD include retail sales, taverns, eating establishments and movie theaters. Day cares, however, are not considered a proper use of the ROD.

Because of this, Wiggles and Giggles cannot be located in the front 30 feet of the building’s ground floor. Instead, that space will be occupied by the center’s executive office and conference room, which is an allowable use of the district under a 2004 amendment to the ordinance.

"When the ROD was first established in 1998, offices were not a permitted use in the district," explained Bob Thompson, borough manager. "However, in 2003 the borough established a zoning steering committee to review the current zoning ordinance…. As part of that, they recommended changes to meet the objectives of the borough’s comprehensive plan. In 2004, borough council adopted amendments to the zoning ordinance, of which adding the office use to permitted uses in the ROD was a part."

Because the office will take up the front part of the ground floor, the day care’s main entrance will be moved to the side of the building, leaving the front door as a handicap and office entrance only.

For more information about Wiggles and Giggles Infant and Toddler Center, e-mail wigglesgigglesitc@gmail.com or call 721-6869. More FLEA MARKET, page A16

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