The YMCA, it turns out, really is a fun place to stay—for kids aged six weeks to 18 years old, who have plenty of opportunities for fun and learning. And with a recent expansion into the former Black Hills Energy building at 625 Ninth Street, across from the YMCA’s long-standing facility on Kansas City Street, there’s room to accommodate more children than ever. 

The expansion was a long time coming. Short on space for years, the YMCA explored many different options before purchasing the Black Hills Energy building when they consolidated operations and expanding programming over four floors of office space. The layout was unconventional; the YMCA became the first child care facility in South Dakota to occupy multiple floors, but the advantages were too numerous to pass up. For starters, there were significant cost savings compared with constructing a new building, and the center was able to add a room for newborns in order to better meet the needs of the community. Child care staff worked diligently to move in and assemble education centers in order to be ready for opening day on September 3rd. Administrative offices followed suit in October. 

The new state-of-the-art facility is open and inviting, thanks to ample windows that let in lots of natural light. A high-tech security system and command center ensures around-the-clock safety. The YMCA is open to infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and students in elementary, middle, and high school in need of before- and after-school care. Indoor and outdoor play spaces offer flexible, fun options for burning off energy regardless of the weather. One of the center’s more unique features is the Youth Institute, a media technology program for teens in grades 7 through 12 who want to nurture and develop important career and life skills. Students have an opportunity to work on creative pursuits such as graphic design, filmmaking, custom embroidery, and screenprinting, and receive job skills training. 

Keiz Larson, Chief Operating Officer, says there are plenty of reasons for parents to consider utilizing the YMCA. “In every classroom we address the specific needs of children based not only on age, but also the individual pace of their development,” she explains. “Safety and health of the child is our top priority, all the while providing positive relationships between the children, staff, and parents to ensure a high-quality experience.” 

Every teacher and staff member has a degree or certification in Early Child Education and/or Development and relies on a specific curriculum to provide children with skills that will enable them to build a foundation for school readiness. The adult-to-child ratios and class sizes at the YMCA are actually smaller than what is mandated by the state of South Dakota, ensuring a more personalized experience for kids. 

By all measures, the expansion has already exceeded expectations. Current child care enrollment in Rapid City is 264 children. “In a direct reflection of community need, the infant program filled immediately,” Larson says. “In addition, our one-year-old program and our four-year-old program are both currently filled. Maximum capacity is 276.”

WORDS MARK PETRUSKA
PHOTO JESSE BROWN NELSON