It took about two years to rebuild, but Kathy Gray and her team did.
It took two years of construction, two years of running the day care out of a nearby church, two years of putting the pieces back together after an October 2015 fire reduced Creative Critters Learning Center in West Point to rubble.
Gray, the owner of Creative Critters, was tired, but rest was not the answer: She needed another project.
For Gray, that project is another day care.
Gray and her business partner, Kristin Tarrant, are renovating a Norge child care center to become Creative Critters’ fourth location. The center opened for its first day Monday.
“This rejuvenated me and got me excited again and refocused,” Gray said.
The new learning center, at 159 Kristiansand Drive, will be Creative Critters’ fourth day care in the region, joining locations in West Point, Toano and New Kent. It takes the place of Childcare Network, which previously occupied the building.
The idea to open a new day care came about unexpectedly.
“In May, we started receiving calls from parents saying their day care center was going to close,” Gray said. “There isn’t enough day care around.”
Representatives from Childcare Network did not return a request for comment.
Creative Critters was at capacity already at its existing three locations, with waiting lists for all three.
“What sets us apart is that we’re education-based,” Tarrant said. “We have the home day care feel, but we do a lot of education.”
The only answer: take over the Norge child care center.
Gray called Tarrant and the two started formulating their plan, which involved bankers and loans, as well as the realty company for the Kristiansand Drive location. Creative Critters had to take out a loan to jumpstart the business, but renovations were covered by the real estate company, Gray said.
“Some of these kids were here before,” Tarrant said ahead of the center’s Monday opening. “It’ll be fun to watch their faces when they walk in and see the new, bright space.”
Renovations include new paint, rugs and supplies. Gray and Tarrant have been picking up supplies at yard sales as well, aiming to be frugal.
The Norge center’s final inspection by the Virginia Department of Social Services was last Tuesday, Tarrant said.
Creative Critters offered to take on Childcare Network’s employees at the Norge location, although Tarrant said none have taken them up on the offer yet.
So far, there are at least 30 children signed up for day care at the center, which has a capacity of 100 children. The other three centers have capacities around 56 or 57 students.
Creative Critters’ third location, at 3701 Rochambeau Drive in Williamsburg, is also undergoing renovations to bring its capacity up to 100 children, Tarrant said. Renovations started in late July.
The renovation on Rochambeau Drive and opening of the Norge location are the business’ first projects since Creative Critters in West Point burned down in October 2015. The center was housed in the West Point United Methodist Church for about a year and a half before moving back to a reconstructed building at its old location.
Fire officials said the fire was accidental and electrical in nature.
“I thought we were done after the renovations for the third center, but this next project was put in my hands for a reason,” Gray said. “It made me look at the company is a whole different way.”
As part of the opening of the Norge location, Gray is moving into the role of CEO, and Tarrant will be the executive director. Jessica Mills, a Creative Critters employee, will direct the new location.
Gray said she feels like child care is her calling, and she is excited to continue touching the lives of area children.
“My goal is to contact 500 children each year,” Gray said. “I don’t know why I picked that number, but it’s my goal.
“We’re in it because we love it.”