The Bath Area Family YMCA will receive nearly $1.5 million in federal funding to build a child care center that will allow it to serve more families, according to executive director Sabrina Murphy.
The YMCA is finalizing plans for the project, which was previously estimated at $3.8 million, Murphy said. No timeline has yet been set, she said, but the federal funding will provide a solid foundation as the group begins raising additional funds.
“It’s just a groundbreaking start for us,” Murphy said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity to look ahead.”
The Bath Area Family YMCA enrichment program serves just over 80 children aged 3 to 5 a year, she said. The new center will allow the organization to expand to 120 children, including infants.
It would be a blessing for Midcoast parents like YMCA business manager Kerrie Benedict as they face the realities of a child care shortage in the state.
Due to the shortage exacerbated by the pandemic, Benedict began to put her name on waiting lists months before giving birth to her fourth child in November. Almost seven months later, she still hasn’t found daycare for her baby.
“I know how difficult it is for parents to find good quality child care,” she said. “It will certainly fill a desperate need.”
The enrichment program is operating at full capacity, according to director Annie Colaluca. Even though pre-K staff took over both the building’s multipurpose room and the former teen center, a lack of space and resources forced the program to turn away several families.
“I have a waiting list of 15 or more kids,” Colaluca said. “I just don’t have anywhere else to grow up.”
The new building will allow the program to grow from three classrooms to eight, while the funding will help double the size of staff and pay for additional financial aid offerings.
Colaluca envisions the new center as a “home away from home” for Midcoast children.
“Hopefully the continuity of care that we could provide would be really that six-week mark until they’re ready for kindergarten,” she said. “Families would benefit and children would benefit from this experience.”
While that ultimate goal may be years away, Murphy said the team hopes to find a way to expand the offerings in the meantime.
“We want to address this need as soon as possible,” she said. “We know the need is critical.”
Statewide, 1,606 child care centers, including child care centers, preschools and home child care providers, were licensed as of January 2022, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Between April 2020 and September 2021, the first months of the pandemic, 187 closed, according to The Times Record.
The YMCA funding is part of the 2022 Omnibus Appropriations Package, which was approved in the US Senate March 68-31, 10.
Maine Sen. Angus King said the funding will create “significant enrichment opportunities for Maine children and (increase) the number of affordable, quality child care services available to Maine parents.”