United Learning Center sees influx of additional state, federal funds

Spending bills:$4.1 million for the Port of Chehalis, $950,000 for Packwood sewer also included in federal legislation


The Boys & Girls Club of Lewis County’s plan to build a United Learning Center in Centralia received two major funding boosts last week, with nearly $6 million in additional funds set to come from the state and federal governments.

The funding could breathe new life into the project that aims to address Lewis County’s status as a “child care desert,” which is defined by the Center for American Progress “as any census tract with more than 50 children under age 5 that contains either no child care providers or so few options that there are more than three times as many children as licensed child care slots.”

A package of six spending bills passed by both chambers of Congress last week and signed by President Joe Biden Saturday includes $4 million for the project, funding secured by Sen. Patty Murray.

“Anyone who knows me knows that expanding quality, affordable child care has been and continues to be one of my top priorities,” Murray said in a statement to The Chronicle. “As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I am fighting hard to secure more federal resources for child care — including for important local projects like constructing a new building for the United Learning Center of Lewis County. I’m thrilled that I was able to direct $4 million for this brand-new early learning center that will serve 80 students each year for families in and around Centralia. This is a great step, but there is still a whole lot more that needs to be done to fix the child care crisis, and I will continue pushing to make sure every family in Washington state who needs child care can find and afford it.”

The federal money comes after state Rep. Peter Abbarno, R-Centralia, secured $1.95 million for the project in the $1.33 billion supplemental capital budget awaiting a signature by Gov. Jay Inslee.

“I am proud to have been one of the early supporters of the United Learning Center when it was just a concept many years ago,” Abbarno said in a statement Monday. “The state, federal and private funds for the United Learning Center is evident that our partnership recognizes we live in a child care desert. Early learning and child care help children become kindergarten-ready, create safe learning spaces, and allow parents to seek educational and employment opportunities. I am passionate about early learning and child care, which is a reason I worked to secure funding for the United Learning Center completion.”



The United Learning Center

When completed, the 12,800-square-foot United Learning Center will be built on the corner of West Maple and North Pearl streets in Centralia. In September 2021, the Bezos Academy signed a 10-year lease with United Way of Lewis County to operate a preschool for students from low-income families at the facility, according to previous Chronicle reporting.

“This funding will help construction on the United Learning Center get moving again — and it’s investments like these that can set our next generation up for success and put bright futures in reach for kids who need it most,” U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez said in a statement to The Chronicle Monday. “I’ll continue looking for ways to help make this vital community resource a reality.”

Project Manager Todd Chaput said Monday he was still reviewing the additional federal funds, but would likely have additional information on the project later in the week. In November, Chaput said he was “very cautious” about the potential for additional federal funding, though he was “super excited” when told the Senate’s initial budget included $4 million for the project

While it wasn’t clear Monday when work on the project would begin, state and federal officials remained optimistic about what the United Learning Center could mean for Southwest Washington.

“My family struggled with finding adequate and affordable childcare more than a decade ago right here in Centralia and Lewis County,” Abbarno said Monday. “Working families in our community and throughout Washington are still struggling in this child care desert. Washington state must provide communities and families with more childcare and early learning tools and the United Learning Center can be one of those tools for our community.”


Other projects secured by Sen. Murray

As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray led the passage of the bipartisan package of six fiscal year 2024 appropriations bills, which cleared the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Friday.

Murray secured $4.79 billion total in funding for Washington state, including $1.57 billion for projects and activities in Washington, $3 billion for the Hanford Nuclear site, and $188.4 million in Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS) for projects across Washington in the package.

The six spending bills are part of 12 appropriation bills to fund the federal government, and Congress faces a March 22 deadline to pass the six additional bills. The funding packages run through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.

“As Senate Appropriations Chair, I work to make sure the federal government’s priorities are Washington state’s priorities — these funding bills reflect my efforts to put Washington state first,” Murray said in a statement. “I had to work under really tough fiscal constraints, but by managing to negotiate full-year funding bills we delivered important wins for Washington state and protected so many federal programs working people rely on — from lifesaving nutrition programs like WIC to housing and infrastructure funding that our state is counting on.”


Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez helps secure more than $21 million for Southwest Washington

In addition to advocating for the Early Learning Center project, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Washougal, announced Monday she secured more than $21 million through 15 Community Project Funding (CPF) requests, the maximum number of requests members of the house can submit.

“By bringing home over $21 million in federal funding, we’re investing in 15 much-needed projects that will make an incredible difference in communities across Southwest Washington. From strengthening clean water systems that keep folks healthy, to building infrastructure farmers and fishermen rely on, to getting the equipment necessary for rural public safety and trades programs — these investments are the nuts and bolts of how (the) government can serve the people,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in a statement. “These spending bills took long enough, but it shows what can be accomplished when Congress puts patriotism over partisanship to focus on working families. While I’m glad I could bring this funding home, I’m incredibly grateful for the folks across Southwest Washington who will be putting in the legwork in the coming months to put these dollars to good use for the sake of their communities.”

Projects in Lewis County that received funding through the package include $4.1 million for the Port of Chehalis to construct public grain storage and a trans-loading facility.

“This funding will allow us to complete our project. It is going to have a major positive impact on not just Lewis County, but also surrounding counties that will be able to take advantage of having the facility,” Lewis County Farm Bureau President Maureen Harkcom said in a statement. “Not only is it going to help revive agricultural production, it is going to allow dairies and chicken producers to save greatly on their grain/feed costs by being able to receive rail shipments. This facility is a big win for agriculture in Southwest Washington and, in so doing, is a win for all residents who benefit from American-produced foods.”

The package also includes $950,000 for Lewis County to support a sewer installation project in Packwood.

“Our small communities are growing at a rapid pace. Critical infrastructure like the Packwood sewer system will enable our long-term Subarea Plan goals, such as affordable housing and small businesses retail opportunities to be achieved. This critical project also protects our water resources from degradation in this sensitive and beautiful mountain community," Lewis County Commissioner Scott Brummer said in a statement. “The Packwood Sewer project is a collaborative effort with the community that has now received support from state and federal appropriations. Lewis County is grateful for the work of our Congresswoman to bring these funds to our local area.”

In Thurston County, Gluesenkamp Perez secured $500,000 for the Thurston Economic Development Council to continue the development of a regional agricultural business and innovation park.

“This investment will help us further our goal of supporting the regional ag economy, as well as build resilience into our food supply chain, in addition to creating local jobs and strengthening community,” Thurston County Commissioner Wayne Fournier said in a statement. “We are very grateful for Congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez’s support and dedication on this project and all that she has done for supporting South Thurston County.”