A once-blighted North Waco house that was resurrected on national television will soon be home to a single mother, her daughter and lots of babies.
Jennifer Sulak is leasing the two-story house at 2001 Gorman Ave. that Magnolia Homes renovated last year, with plans to live upstairs and run an extended-hours child care center downstairs.
The “Think Play Grow” center will open in the next few weeks, pending final approval on a state license and a city of Waco special zoning permit, Sulak said. She said it will serve up to 12 babies from birth to age 24 months, offering flexible hours beginning at 7 a.m.
Sulak said there’s a large unmet need in Waco both for evening child care and infant care.
“Infant care is one of the hardest things to find,” she said. “A lot of schools start at 18 months.”
She said the flexible evening hours should appeal to professors with night classes as well as people doing shift work at hospitals and factories. She said her staff will tend to the children at night, but she will be close at hand, living upstairs with her 12-year-old daughter.
Sulak, a former teacher who last served as director of Lake Shore Baptist Children’s Center, knew about the three-story house from watching HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” show.
The show followed Magnolia Homes owners Chip and Joanna Gaines as they renovated the abandoned house for former professional soccer player Charmaine Hooper and her husband, Baylor coach Chuck Codd. They spent about $24,000 for the house and more than $150,000 to renovate it.
The 1920s house had been red-tagged by the city as uninhabitable and was shrouded by an overgrown privet hedge. Hooper, a Hewitt resident, said in February that she hoped to move her family into the house if she could persuade her husband to do it.
In the end, they decided to stay put, but Hooper said this week that she still thinks in the potential of the Sanger-Heights neighborhood and wanted to hold onto the house.
“We thought, ‘What good can we do with it?’ ” she said.
Hooper said she thought a child care center would be “kind of perfect” as a fit.
“That’s a neighborhood that’s lacking in child care,” she said.
Sulak had been following the show this summer and was impressed with the work on the Gorman Avenue home. When she heard Hooper was considering leasing it as a child care facility, she submitted her résumé and arranged a meeting.
“Once I started talking to Charmaine, I hit it off with her — you can’t not hit it off with her,” Sulak said.
To use the house as a live-in child care center required a special “group home” permit from the city of Waco. The City Plan Commission late last month recommended the permit for one year, and the Waco City Council will consider it for final approval Nov. 18.
City planners said one neighbor objected to the permit on the grounds that the center would be open late and might create parking and traffic issues.
But city planners recommended the permit, citing the need for more child care facilities in Waco and the neighborhood.
Ellen Filgo, a former Sanger-Heights Neighborhood Association board member who lives near the house, said that at first she was a bit disappointed that the owners weren’t moving into the house as planned.
Fulfilling a need
But she agreed that the facility would fulfill a need, possibly even hers. As a full-time Baylor librarian, Filgo needs to add longer child care hours for her children, ages 2 years old and 7 months.
“I see a need for good child care for babies,” she said. “I also think it’s great to have something on the second shift. . . . I’m not opposed to it being in the neighborhood because as someone who has children who need care during the day, I realize there’s a need, if it’s going to be quality child care.”
Sulak said she intends to offer a higher level of care than a typical day care operation.
“We’re not just going to warehouse children,” she said. “We’re going to offer a learning environment and nutritious food.”
She said it will be comparable in price and service to high-end preschools, though she hopes to offer places for children with state Child Care Services subsidies.
The center will charge a base tuition of $185 per week for the minimum 10 hours, with reduced rates for extra hours, with a maximum of 50 hours a week.
Sulak said the hours can be flexible for those who work split shifts or irregular hours.
“Whatever schedule they have at home, we’ll have here,” she said of the babies.
Meanwhile, Sulak is preparing to start a preschool called Think Play Grow Academy at North 25th Street and Cumberland Avenue for 40 children ages 2 to 5. She said it will also be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Sulak said she looks forward to living in the Sanger-Heights neighborhood, and in a beautifully restored home.
“They really did save the house,” she said. “I’m amazed at how many people stop by and take pictures.”
If you go
What: Waco City Council meeting
When: 3 p.m. work session, 6 p.m. business session
Where: City Operations Center, 1415 N. Fourth St.
On the agenda: Final approval of special zoning permit for child care center at 2001 Gorman Ave.
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