The Capitol Building is seen Monday, Jan. 8, 2018, in Olympia.

The Centralia-Chehalis Early Learning Conversion Project received a $1 million boost in the state’s supplemental capital budget, approved on March 11. 

The supplemental budget is reviewed every year, according to State Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

“Our normal budget is around $4 billion for the capital budget,” DeBolt said. “This budget is around, and I guess the only way to kind of say it is around $80 million. So, it’s truly small projects, supplemental stuff.”

He called early learning projects “a big one that got more money.”

The Centralia-Chehalis Early Learning Conversion Project saw its previous $2 million figure jump to the $3 million listed in the current bill. Centralia City Councilor Peter Abbarno remains involved with the project. 

According to Abbarno, the Centralia-Chehalis Early Learning Conversion Project would utilize an existing school building, or could even look to build a new structure, to house an accessible early learning center in the community. 

The center would help children get a head start before kindergarten. 

“We know that kids’ brains develop the most between the ages of zero and five, prior to even going to school,” Abbarno said. “We wanted to look at a way to help our community through early education. It’s a great need for many working families in our community.”

According to the United Way, the specific group of people are referred to as asset limited, income constrained, but employed individuals or families, otherwise known as ALICE families.  

United Way of Lewis County Executive Director Debbie Campbell stressed the importance of the eventual center’s accessibility for people and families who might make barely more than low-income. She called it the project’s “focus.”

“We won’t be ready to roll until it’s (the center) is open and available to all,” Campbell said. “We’re analyzing, we’re meeting with groups, we’re talking to other facilities that have done something similar to this in other parts of the state. So, we take it very seriously that we make it, again, focused on ALICE, those families that fall through the gaps. I would say that’s probably number one on our list.” 

Abbarno said the bump in funding is an indication that the project is both progressing and being viewed as an important step for early learning development by the community. 

As someone who volunteers with schools in the area, he said he’s aware of the need for the project in this community specifically. 

“As a father, I have two young children,” Abbarno said. “I work in the schools as a watchdog and a volunteer, I see the need for more early learning, especially with the community of working families who often struggle with day care and pre-school and early learning and dealing with some of those issues that many families who have dual incomes. It’s a struggle.”

DeBolt said he was happy to get local projects, like the Centralia-Chehalis Early Learning Conversion Project funded. 

“We got some stuff in it for our community,” DeBolt said. “So that’s good.”

That community aims to set the precedent for the rest of the state by placing an emphasis on early learning projects. 

“With any project, when you look at them, you look at what other communities are doing and you say, ‘how could we do it better, how could we implement it in our community,’” Abbarno said. “In this case, you look at identifying a problem and finding a solution. I believe this project is going to be, or should be, one of those projects that other communities are going to look at and say, ‘we want to do it like Centralia and Chehalis did it.’”

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