Old School Community Center

Beaver Brook Children's School in Wilmington will receive $198,000 through the federally-funded Expanding Access Grant program, in part to help operate summer programs at the Old School Community Center.

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WILMINGTON — Gearing up for a fall opening, a new child care and pre-k program received startup funds from the town.

“This is a huge driver for our workforce, for our economy, for bringing people here,” said Gretchen Havreluk, economic development consultant for the town. “I strongly think that this is a real game changer for Wilmington.”

At the Select Board meeting held remotely Tuesday, Beaver Brook Children’s School received approval to get $40,000 via the town’s 1 percent local option tax fund. The revenue is earmarked for economic and community development.

Julie Koehler of Wilmington will be the president of the nonprofit running the program in the Old School Community Center. She said she has worked in early education in Vermont for about a decade now.

Her goal is to create affordable, high-quality child care and early education services for families in Wilmington and other nearby towns. She said the licensed program will promote enrichment and social development.

About 30 children are anticipated to be served. Between two and 10 jobs are expected to be created, with salaries above minimum wage.

“Wilmington currently doesn’t have any licensed child care programs or family home programs,” Koehler said. “Dover has two licensed centers but both remain full with extended wait lists.”

She said no licensed programs exist in Searsburg, Readsboro, Whitingham, Halifax, Jacksonville or Marlboro.

The hope is to keep flexible hours, providing service on weekends and for extended daytime hours to support families in seasonal positions or the restaurant/hospitality industry. Koehler said the location is on the Moover bus route and it will draw more visitors to the community center.

Startup costs are estimated to total about $100,000. Koehler is seeking a $25,000 matching grant from the state for construction and renovations, and $35,000 from Let’s Grow Kids for furniture and materials.

Windham Southwest Supervisory Union staff provided statements in support of Koehler’s project.

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“I trust her,” said Kathy Rapp, an early childhood teacher with WSWSU. “I think you would be doing your community a service by having her program here.”

Koehler plans to offer teachers $500 sign-on bonuses and charge families about $250 to $300 week. She said families can also apply for a state subsidy.

Meg Streeter, who serves as vice chairwoman of the Old School Enrichment Council, described her group being “very excited about the opportunity.”

“This is such a hard situation for working parents compared to some of us when our kids were day-care age,” she said. “There were many more daycare services available.”

Select Board Vice Chairman John Gannon said he is “very supportive” of child care. But he also urged caution after adult day-care provider The Gathering Place recently announced it will not be reopening its West Dover site due to low participation attributed in part to anticipated census counts after COVID-19.

“I understand the buildout costs that we would cover through the 1 percent,” he said. “But I want to make sure this can continue operating on a long-term basis.”

Select Board Chairman Tom Fitzgerald said the community “desperately” needs the program and the board should support the project. He noted The Gathering Place, which was open for 22 months before closing during the pandemic, received about $80,000 from the town’s 1 percent fund over the years.

“But we have to take these chances to beef up our infrastructure,” he said.

Board member Sarah Fisher asked if the programming could be expanded if needed. The matter has not been discussed with the Old School Enrichment Council but there are more rooms available in the community center, Koehler said.

Due to the experience with The Gathering Place, Gannon said, “I want to keep a close watch on this project.” A motion to approve the funding included a stipulation that Koehler report back to the board about her progress in October.

Koehler said she is happy to partner with the Select Board and report back monthly or whenever board members feel it is necessary.