The Red Caboose Childhood Center will open its new expansion on Saturday in a new four-story building located on Winnebago Street with more space to accommodate rising demand for child care in the Madison area.
Red Caboose’s previous location on Williamson Street for over 50 years had capacity for 53 children with 11 full-time teachers, according to Project Administrator and former Executive Director Lisa Fiala. Fiala said the new expansion will allow Red Caboose to serve 153 children per day.
The Red Caboose has struggled to keep up with rising demand for childcare services. The center has seen its waitlist grow up to 200 children, Fiala said, mostly consisting of toddlers and infants.
This kind of demand is something Fiala says exists and is “not easy,” especially after many centers in the Madison area closed due to the pandemic.
“We get calls from parents who haven't even delivered babies yet,” Fiala told The Daily Cardinal. “Sometimes, we find out before [the couples’s] parents know that they're expecting, and they're on our waiting list.”
Fiala said the current location that housed the daycare center for over 40 years is decades old and often in need of repairs.
“Through some careful consideration — talking to different architects and developers — we determined that the best thing for us to do to keep us going for another 40 years would be to relocate with the option of expanding,” she said.
The Red Caboose is making efforts to meet this demand by adding infant care and mixed-age groups of children to the center as part of the expansion.
Fiala said mixed-age groups will help get kids off of the waitlist who may otherwise be on it.
“If we have people who are ready right now to come to our program, and they're in that [age] group, but it's not enough to fill a classroom, we can balance it out,” she added.
The daycare program itself has always focused its efforts on being as accessible and affordable as possible, Fiala said. The center offers reduced fees for lower-income parents to help expand access to child care services.
“We have a sliding scale tuition based off of household size and income,” she said. “We also have a tuition assistance program for families who are receiving subsidies from the county or the city, and they will help pay for that parent portion.”
The Red Caboose is the oldest independently run child care center in Madison and has operated as a non-profit organization since its inception in 1972, according to their website. To fund the organization’s expansion, The Red Caboose partnered with Movin’ Out, a nonprofit focused on providing affordable housing to residents with physical and cognitive disabilities.
Movin’ Out and Red Caboose pooled their money to purchase the building on Winnebago Street. While the first floor of the new building will be occupied by Red Caboose, Movin’ Out will operate affordable housing units on the three upper floors.
The partnership with Movin’ Out was a “perfect match,” Fiala said.
“They have a certain percentage of their housing dedicated to folks with [those] particular integrated needs, which was their mission and our mission,” she said.
The Red Caboose also raised an additional $2 million dollars through fundraising efforts, according to Fiala, which made the new location and full expansion possible.