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Originally published in Castine Patriot, July 3, 2014
Local group struggles to fill the early child care gap in Castine
CED pledges support

by Anne Berleant

The imminent closing of Otter House–officially named Castine Community Child Development Center—has a core of local citizens scrambling to create a new program in a short time span. The biggest stumbling block right now, said Nancy Sayre, is finding space. “The clock is ticking,” she told Community and Economic Development Committee members on June 30.

Sayre, who holds a PhD in early childhood education and created a child care center for Clarion University in Pennsylvania, submitted reasons why investing in an early childhood center would be a “wise investment…in Castine”—and a plan for such a center.

“You’re trying to attract jobs? Here’s an industry,” she said, that would help the local economy in the short term by adding dollars from its own employees and operation to local businesses and by attracting employees to the town. In the long term, it would lower costs for remedial and special education, increase incomes and tax payments from those who complete school, and lower criminal justice and prison costs.

“Castine is at the crossroads,” her proposal reads. “A necessity exists to develop a climate of economic opportunity and to attract young families to the community. To accomplish the latter there is a need to develop an integrated system of early education and care involving families and the community in the design, implementation and evaluation of a high quality program.”

“You’re preaching to the choir,” said Chairman Rick Armstrong. “We’re convinced. I think more and more of the community is convinced.”

Otter House is set to close on August 29, leaving 12 parents with jobs in Castine representing 15 children in need of early childhood care, said Gil Tenney. “It’s critical we maintain the families we have…and attract new families.” Sayre said the number of children in need of child care increases when Maine Maritime Academy employees are added to the mix.

If you have children and are considering moving to Castine, the lack of local child care “is not going to fly,” said CED member Tony Politano. “This is a critical linchpin of our ability draw people to the [area].”

But without even a temporary space to open a center right after Otter House closes, plans cannot move forward, Sayre said. “If we just get a site, we’ve got the expertise to get it going.”

The second hurdle is funding. A high-quality early childhood care center “cannot just run on parent tuition,” Sayre explained, but needs to be sustained through taxes, donations and fundraising”—a direct investment of the town—that is consistent over time.

She repeated the phrase “high quality” several times. “The majority of child care in the U.S. is mediocre to poor,” she said. “That is well documented.”

The plan she presented to CED members is “a vision for excellence,” with degreed early childhood professionals creating a curriculum and providing the care. “Communities are accountable for the quality of early childhood programs provided to all children, backed by the local, state, and federal funding needed to deliver quality programs and services.”

But the first step is finding a home. Institutions she has approached have declined, Sayre said, such as Maine Maritime Academy, the Castine Grange and Witherle Memorial Library. The basement of the Castine Community Health Center is one possibility, as is using a mobile classroom, which requires land capable of hook-ups to water and electricity, such as Adams School property.

The lack of available space “is turning out to be a huge hurdle,” she concluded after the meeting.

The CED “formally expressed” its support and plans to form a subcommittee to help at its next meeting.

“There is no way we’re not going to have early childhood care in town,” said Politano. “Whether it happens in September or later.”