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Work starts on Happy Days child care center

Construction is set to underway for the new Happy Days location with a projected opening early summer 2024.

Construction is underway at a building in Ely’s business park - one that will soon be transformed into a child care facility.

Renovation at the former Department of Revenue building is being led by general contractor Max Gray Construction.

It’s a critical step toward the opening of the Happy Days Learning Center in 2024.

An ongoing effort to improve access to child care on the Iron Range led to the award of $1.7 million in funding to support facilities in Chisholm and Ely.

It is the result of requests United Way of Northeastern Minnesota submitted to Senators Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar in 2022, coupled with matching state funds from the department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board.

“We know increasing access to childcare takes a significant investment, and the sticker shock can prohibit people passionate about childcare from opening facilities,” said United Way executive director Erin Shay. “We are so proud to have played a role in bringing these projects to fruition and beyond grateful to everyone who made it possible – the senators for moving our request forward, everyone who supported the request including local Chambers of Commerce, local steelworkers’ unions, and the Range Association of Municipalities and Schools, state and county officials for their support of these projects, and all the groups we’ve worked with since to turn this funding into childcare opportunities for local families.”

In Ely, $1.2 million has been awarded to Happy Days Learning Center in the building recently purchased by the Ely Area Community Foundation.

The center will be licensed for 46 full-time children: 12 infants, 14 toddlers, and 20 pre-school and school-aged children and will be open year-round from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“The Happy Days Learning Center Board is ecstatic and grateful to be receiving this funding,” said Board President Mandy Petersen. “With it, we will be able to provide our community with the affordable, high-quality childcare we so desperately need.

We are grateful to the United Way, the USDA, Senators Klobuchar and Smith, Commissioner McDonald, the EACF Board of Directors, the IRRR, the Northland Foundation, First Children’s Finance, and all of those who have helped us to receive this funding. We are hopeful this new center benefits our community for generations to come.”

The EACF has selected Max Gray Construction as its general contractor, and work began this month.

The project will include building new classrooms, a new playground, furnishings, and a commercial kitchen. Completion is expected mid-June 2024.

EACF Chair Jeff Sundell says child care is a critical need in Ely and its surrounding communities.

“We need a well-run child care center to retain and attract young families in our communities,” he said. “The Ely Area Community Foundation recognizes this essential need and is working as an important part of this team to make the Happy Days Learning Center a reality.”

Until the new building opens, Happy Days’ pre-school program will continue out of Ely’s First Lutheran Church.

The program is currently implementing Experience Early Learning curriculum which will carry over into the new center as well. Some availability for the current program remains for children ages 33 months to five years. Children must be toilet trained to attend. For more information, contact

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