By Jessianne Wright EBS Contributor

BIG SKY – Morningstar Learning Center, Big Sky’s only state-licensed, full-time day care, is planning to expand its facilities to accommodate the growing number of families who call Big Sky home.

“Morningstar was originally created to fill a gap in the community,” said board president Matt Dodd. “What we’ve found lately is that our wait list is getting longer and longer. People are getting on our wait list even before having a child … there are lots of little ones in Big Sky these days.”

To respond to Big Sky’s growth, the daycare and preschool facility will construct an additional building specifically for infants, bringing infant enrollment from six to up to 16, said Executive Director Stephanie Kissell. Currently, approximately 50 children are enrolled at Morningstar.

Last year, the nonprofit raised $40,000 and this February an anonymous donor matched the funds, bringing the total fundraising effort for the infant center to $80,000. Morningstar is reviewing bids from local contractors and expects to break ground later this year. Redleaf Engineering in Big Sky and Huron Building Company of Michigan developed the renderings and models. If all goes as planned, the center will be in use sometime in 2018.

“We’ve designed it with infants in mind,” Dodd said. The building will include nap rooms, changing rooms and a full kitchen, and the building will open up to the existing play area.

Morningstar accepts children who are 6 months to 7 years old, so the infant area expansion could allow the day care to make more room for toddlers as well, Kissell said. She estimates the daycare will be able to accommodate a total of about 66 children once the expansion is complete.

In the last six months Morningstar has restructured the administrative team, adding an executive director, assistant director and executive teacher to the payroll. Also added during the restructure, employees can now choose a benefits package and earn higher wages.

Kissell took the executive director position in November as a part of this restructure. Kissel has lived in Big Sky for 11 years and taught kindergarten and first and second grades at Ophir Elementary School for eight. Faye Telios, the new executive teacher, has an extensive background in early childhood learning and is familiar with Montana’s rules and regulations regarding the running of a daycare.

The preschool and daycare facility is also managed by an eight-person board of volunteers.

Morningstar has been able to secure funding from the Big Sky Resort Area District tax since 2010, allowing the facility to discount tuition costs and offer tuition scholarships, Kissell said.

“We are currently in the process of scheduling a consultant to come do some strategic and long-term planning,” Kissell said. “We will be taking a critical look at our preschool program to determine what we can do to enrich our student experience to better prepare them to go to Ophir School.

“We are looking at creating an open, collaborative relationship with our local schools,” she added. “We are all here to serve families and to serve children, so our goal is really to identify what we can do to meet the needs of families in our area.”