Ballarat is in the grips of a child care boom with millions of dollars being invested in new centres to cater for the massive influx of young families moving to the city.
The boom is good news for the local economy, creating construction jobs during the early stages of the new centres and scores of new jobs for early childhood educations and other staff once complete.
There are at least six new centres, with at least 600 child care places between them, in the planning or construction phase across the city and one centre complete and scheduled to open on January 31.
That's on top of at least three large centres, each catering for more than 100 children, that opened last year.
Beth Matheson, director of the new Journey Early Learning Centre in Delacombe, said she was excited to be welcoming families for tours of the new centre before it opens at the end of the month.
Most have moved in to the surrounding Winter Valley and Smythes Creek housing estates, many looking for a lifestyle change and relocating from Melbourne to Ballarat while others had moved from other pockets of Ballarat to the city's fringe in the search for more space.
Ms Matheson said the pandemic had changed what many parents prioritised in a child care centre for their children.
"A lot of parents are working from home so they are thinking about where they live, and what's close to them, and whether they may be able to walk to do the pick up and drop off at child care, whereas parents used to look for care that was close to work and convenient from that perspective," she said.
The new centre, opposite Delacombe Town Centre, is in the middle of one of the fastest growing areas of Ballarat.
It will initially open with around 12 staff and when running at its full capacity, open 6.30am to 6.30pm for 120 children a day, will employ about 40 people.
Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton said the boom in child care centres was another signpost of the city's rapid growth.
"Demand for regional living, demand for land in Ballarat continues to just go ballistic and with that has to come infrastructure, things like child care and schools are critical," he said.
While government figures put Ballarat's estimated growth rate at roughly two per cent, Mr Poulton argued the true increase was probably double that, at closer to four per cent, if not higher.
"Talking to some of the guys in the real estate and development space they are talking three to four per cent growth and saying even that is still conservative."
"We are not seeing any slowing of that growth."
Mr Poulton said there was already a risk of the city growing too fast for the infrastructure to keep pace, evident in the fact that government schools in the city's growth region were at or close to capacity, as were private schools.
And all the families with children using the new child care centres will eventually need places in local primary and secondary schools which are already under pressure.
"Where is the growth for Ballarat, west of the city, from a public school perspective," he said. "Phoenix and High school are both bursting at the seams and we've absolutely got to consider where the next school will be built and when it will be built because demand is there."
Mr Poulton said figures showed the growth was largely made up of professional couples with young families looking to move for greater space, greater access to open spaces, and less congestion.
"That continues to be a really strong element of the market, that demographic of young families moving to regional Australia. There's that desire to still be close to Melbourne ... but to have a lifestyle with space and lack of congestion in a city large enough to have a good health care system and good jobs."
Ms Matheson said even during the pandemic it was "mind blowing" how many houses had gone up close to the new centre.
"It's such a growth area where we are located, with lots of families moving from Melbourne or making a change to be new to the area," she said.
She said building a sense of community with the local neighbourhood was a priority.
"Engaging with the local community will be a big part of our program," Ms Matheson said. "Our children will have lots of community adventures, heading out in to the community as well as incursions in the centre and a sports program."
When the installation of traffic lights on the busy Glenelg Highway/Wiltshire Lane intersection is complete, it will make it even easier for the children to get out and about.
"Thing like taking our babies out for walks in our large pram, or if we need some food for a cooking experience children and staff can walk over to the shops, or go to Bunnings ... and we are hoping to make connections with the BUPA nursing home," she said.
IN OTHER NEWS
The company has also recently announced plans to open a second early learning centre in Lucas in 2023, opposite their existing centre there, and construction is underway on Journey's Ballarat East site which is transforming one of the buildings of the long-maligned former Ballarat Orphanage on Victoria Street in to a facility for more than 80 children.
The capacity of a new centre proposed for a vacant lot on Hertford Street Sebastopol, next to Phoenix P-12 Community College, has not yet been revealed but a planning application is currently being advertised for a child care centre and medical centre on the vacant site.
In Skipton Street, Redan, the new Community Kids Haven early learning centre has been taking shape over the last two years with signs recently erected on the construction fence inviting inquiries from new families, with the centre expected to open later this year.
And in Brown Hill works are continuing on a YMCA early learning centre, which planning application documents revealed would cater for 114 children and also incorporate a small swimming pool used for swim lessons.
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