by Jim Boyle
Nicole Woods’ infant child turned 1 year this week, and he was supposed to celebrate part of his birthday on Tuesday “with his ladies” at Learning Blocks Child Care.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, Woods found herself lining up temporary care and shopping for a new child care center. She was one of dozens of families to be notified over the weekend that owners Tina and Gary Erickson were closing the doors to Learning Blocks Child Care in Elk River.
The Ericksons are not answering their phones or returning calls, but emails and a note on the door to the business suggest they are another victim of difficult economic times.
Some families didn’t find out until they showed up on Monday morning to that note.
Employees also found out they no longer had a job over the weekend via emails. Some of those people showed up, knowing that some families might not get an email.
“We were shocked,” Woods said. “More than mad, we were sad.
“We loved them. We had always been so happy with our son’s care and we valued the relations we had with the teachers,” she said.
The Ericksons steered families and former employees to Riverside Development, which owns the building the couple rented from, but representatives of the firm were surprised as anyone to hear of the closure.
They directed them back to the Ericksons, noting as landlords they had no right to enter the building to retrieve personal belongings or answer any questions they might have.
“People quickly figured out we have nothing to do with this,” a spokesperson for Riverside Development said.
Records on file with the Minnesota Department of Human Services show the business as closed. The last licensing review was conducted on June 27, 2012, and there were no violations found as a result of the review.
New Horizon Academy – a child care center across the highway that used to be located where Learning Blocks Child Care had been operated until it built a new facility – was flooded with families on Monday looking for a new child care center.
“We decided we weren’t going to turn anyone away,” said Angie Nierengarten, an assistant director at the center. “We want to help out as much as possible.
“We definitely sympathize with them, how hard it is to find quality care at the drop of a hat.”
At least 14 families started with New Horizon this week and another half-dozen plan to start after the Thanksgiving Day holiday.
New Horizon hired a new staff member and has offered to put Learning Blocks staff members on their sub list to be called for jobs throughout the New Horizon chain of child care centers.
The sudden sting of the news on Monday, however, was cause for many tears. When Woods found out some of the infant caregivers would be there Monday morning, she showed up with Caribou coffees for the staff members.
“We gave them big hugs,” she said. “We were so sad. It was very teary. We appreciate them.”
Woods feels somewhat bitter, however, toward the ownership for closing. She questions why they didn’t do more, even if that meant raising the rates for care or dropping services like providing diapers, wipes and formula for free.
She worries from the email message that the Ericksons will open up again elsewhere.
“No one should ever have to deal with this again,” Woods said. “I want people to know this happened.”