Artist's rendering

An artist's rendering of The Child Learning Center at La Villita and Sahuarita Road, 26,500 square feet with 10 classrooms. The final design could vary.

Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church–Sahuarita is set to break ground on a chapel and child learning center it says will meet a growing demand for licensed daycare in the area.

The church, part of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, plans to build the 26,500-square-foot learning center on five acres at the southwestern corner of Sahuarita and La Villita roads along with a 4,500-square-foot, 154-seat chapel. 

The non-profit learning center's director, Laura Heiman, said the congregation reached out to the community to find out  local needs, and childcare was it.

"One of the number one things that they said is, 'We need child care,'" Heiman said. "We need high-quality child care and especially for infants."

With the congregation outgrowing its current location, a house at La Cañada Drive and West Camino Antigua in Sahuarita, they began looking for a way to incorporate the community's need for more child care with plans for expansion.

"There's very, very few in the Sahuarita/Green Valley area," Heiman said of daycare providers. "I think there's maybe three and only one of them takes below 12 months, and they only take five babies. So we knew that was definitely where we could help."

Heiman expects to open in January.

"It's been a long process in the works to get through the city and all the permits and everything," she said. "So we're very excited that it's happening."

There are 50 children pre-registered with an initial capacity of 75 to 100. Heiman said the learning center will open with five classrooms, but the facility will be built with 10 classrooms for near-term expansion; there is enough land for potential future growth for the center and the chapel. 

"We'll take from six weeks through preschool right now and then eventually we want to, probably, expand and have school-aged before and aftercare," Heiman said.

Heiman, a mother of four boys and native of Wisconsin, moved to Sahuarita three years ago from Minnesota with her husband, Ryan, pastor at the church, which goes by Grace Sahuarita (not to be confused with Grace Church of Sahuarita on Sahuarita Road). They quickly began researching and looking at future locations for a church.

The learning center will also have access to teachers from Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota, with the help of the church's Synod. There are already three lead teachers from the college with degrees in education who will be ready for the January opening. Heinman also attended the college and holds a bachelor's in elementary education and is currently working on a master's degree.

"All of our lead teachers will have a bachelor's degree or higher," Heiman said. "So that's definitely a plus too that many of the childcare centers don't always offer. It's beyond the state's requirements for licensing and we will be a fully licensed facility."

More than daycare

In addition to meeting basic daycare needs such as diaper changes and feedings, which parents can track through an app, the learning center will also work with kids using HighScope curriculum. According to HighScope, the infant-toddler curriculum has six focuses including cognitive, social and emotional development, creative arts and communication.

"It's a whole curriculum based on the philosophy that children learn best through playing with age-appropriate, developmentally appropriate materials and then the teachers are there to guide them through play to reach the milestones they need to be ready for school," Heiman said. "So it's not just a babysitting service. There is a curriculum that we are following to get them ready for school and beyond."

The learning center will also have a religious aspect to the curriculum. There will be lessons with the Bible and children will learn about what Grace Sahuarita teaches, but church membership isn't required.

The pricing list has not been published yet, but Heiman said costs will range from $225 to $265 per week depending on age for full-time care five days per week.

Jorge Encinas | 520-547-9732