New 24/7 daycare plans to open in Columbia this summer

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COLUMBIA - New owners plan to open a 24/7 daycare center in place of The Playground in Columbia, which closed down in November after employees said they were not getting paid.

Lots of Love is located at 2401 Thornberry Drive and plans to open its doors in June. The center has new owners and management who said are they not related to the previous owner, Lauren Ray-Warnke.

Kimberly Williamson moved to Columbia four years ago and said she always wanted to open her own daycare center. With experience running a family home daycare in Sikeston for about seven years, Williamson said she was ready to take on a new challenge and open a daycare center.

"I wanted to have something of my own and something that I can be able to spend and have more time with my own children," said Williamson, who is a mother of four.

Williamson and her husband signed a deal with the property owners March 20 and has since been working with her husband to clean the center. She said funding for the daycare comes from their personal savings.

"We need to invest in this place and bring the look from the outside and the inside, and with all of that, also hiring and bringing people aboard that is going to treat our children with love," said Williamson, who also works with people with disabilities as a part-time assistant at Woodhaven in Columbia. 

Williamson initially eyed a different location for the center at 2807 East Broadway but plans fell through. Then she and her husband looked at the house where The Playground was located.  Although many parents in the community were left scrambling to find a new daycare for their children after the facility suddenly closed last fall, Williamson said she wants them to give the new center a chance.

"I wish that the community don't look at us as being affiliated with the prior people," said Williamson, "but just look at us at somebody that is going to bring something new to the town."

The new center plans to have a parent committee and open a small garden in its backyard. With a capacity of 76 children, the facility will host children aged six weeks to 12 years and also offer a summer school program.

"We are going to be trying to get parents involved as much as possible," said Jenni Burt, who has been appointed as the future director at the new daycare. "We will have an open-door policy. They are welcome to be in the facility whenever they choose," she said.

Burt, the mother of a two-year-old girl, said she feels prepared for the job, saying she has experience as a Columbia Public Schools teacher and has worked at other daycare centers in Columbia. She said she is also not related to the previous owners and has not worked for the facility before.

Williamson said her first customers will be acquaintances, who already agreed to bring their children at the center. 

"I am bringing five beautiful children that, for the last few months, that I've been caring for and they are coming with me," she said. 

Burt said the center will be hiring staff as soon as it gets a licence to operate and registers its first few customers.

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokesman Ryan Hobart said the department received an application for the Lots of Love daycare and is inspecting the facility for safety and sanitation.