Randolph-area coalition plans for child care center off I-89
RANDOLPH — A few years back when the town of Randolph surveyed area employers and workers about what they thought the community needed to advance the town’s goals for economic development, both groups said more child care was a top priority.
It was “amazing how there was common ground,” Adolfo Bailon, Randolph’s town manager, said in a Wednesday phone interview.
A group of area residents, business leaders and early educators now have plans for a new child care center to serve between 80 and 90 children, ranging from infants to preschoolers, in the vacant lower building of Vermont Technical College’s Enterprise Center located off Route 66 near Interstate 89.
The plans presented to community members at a virtual meeting last month would have the White River Junction-based Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. purchase the roughly 10,700-square-foot building, while the Tunbridge-based Orange County Parent Child Center would run it.
The real estate and program startup costs are slated to total about $3 million, said Robert Haynes, executive director of the Green Mountain Economic Development Corp. Haynes said the facility should be ready to open in the summer of 2022, once renovations are complete and staff have been hired and trained.
“At this point, the project has real momentum,” said Reeva Sullivan Murphy, a Stowe, Vt.-based early care and learning consultant on the project.
Murphy is working with the parent child center to fine-tune the business plan for the Randolph program. She estimated that the new center will employ 29 people, some part time. In the future, she said, it could serve as a training site for students studying early education at VTC in Randolph Center or at the Randolph Technical Career Center.
“In rural areas, (the) best way to get really qualified people is to grow your own,” she said.
The Orange County Parent Child Center currently operates a program on Route 110 in Tunbridge that is licensed for 60 children in five classrooms with 15 teachers, said Mary Ellen Otis, the organization’s director. Numbers have dipped during the pandemic, she said.
In addition to child care, OCPCC also provides home visiting programs, as well as support and education for parents, free produce days and access to a diaper bank. The organization is among five family resource centers in the Upper Valley to receive a total of more than $500,000 in multi-year grants from the Couch Family Foundation, which the foundation, created by the founders of Hanover-based Hypertherm, announced this week in a news release.
At OCPCC, the Couch Family funds allow the organization to have a child life specialist on site in Tunbridge 24 hours a week, Otis said. The specialist runs a parent support group and helps teachers at the center create plans for children who are facing specific challenges.
OCPCC aims to bring the same services to Randolph that it has in Tunbridge and to operate both sites once the Randolph location opens, Otis said.
The Tunbridge program has just one room for infants and one for toddlers, but the Randolph program is slated to have two of each to address the area’s demand for care for younger children, Otis said. A needs assessment conducted by the Randolph task force found that 79% of infants, 51% of toddlers and 43% of preschoolers likely to need care in the Randolph area don’t have access to a full-day, year-round program.
Orange County as a whole needs an additional 288 infant spots, 93 toddler spots and 213 preschooler spots to meet demand, according to a January 2020 report, before the COVID-19 pandemic, by the statewide nonprofit Let’s Grow Kids. Care for infants also is hard to find in Windsor County, which the report found needed an additional 336 infant spots to meet demand, as well as 72 spots for toddlers and 73 for preschoolers.
Let’s Grow Kids, which has offices in Montpelier and Burlington, has so far supported the Randolph effort with technical assistance in helping to move the idea to reality, as well as $58,000 to hire the consultant and to help support preliminary site work, said Sherry Carlson, the organization’s chief programs officer.
“There was a community approach that really provided strength to the project,” Carlson said.
She noted that Randolph is one of five or six communities around the state that are working to develop local child care solutions. Though community-based solutions like Randolph’s are a positive step, Carlson said systemic investment is necessary to fully address the state’s child care needs. Access to high-quality child care shouldn’t depend on where people live, she said.
To that end, Let’s Grow Kids is looking to the Legislature in hopes that it will move forward with HB 171, she said. As introduced, the bill — which the House Committee on Human Services approved unanimously on Tuesday — would gradually increase the upper income limit for families who qualify for a state subsidy for child care so that by 2026 families would not have to spend more than 10% of their income on child care. It also would increase wages for workers and support their education through scholarships and a loan repayment program.
The Randolph project’s leaders said they’re hopeful that investments such as those included in the legislation will help their project and others like it to succeed.
Damian DiNicola, a Randolph parent and member of the community task force working on the project, described child care as “critical infrastructure for our towns.” Like roads or utilities, he said, child care is essential to society and the economy.
“I’m hoping this helps form a model that other towns and areas in rural places can use,” he said.
by Nora Doyle-Burr