Lebanon to partner with nonprofit to build and operate child care center

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-22-2023 7:37 PM

WEST LEBANON — Responding to the region’s shortage of day care providers, the city has announced plans to design and build a child care facility on city-owned property and turn operation over to a national nonprofit.

As proposed, the center could provide early childhood education and infant care services for up to 200 children. It will be built on a parcel of city-owned land near Airpark Road in West Lebanon.

According to city officials, access to childcare providers is a critical to spur and sustain economic growth.

“It is one of the issues that keeps people from getting back to work (after having a child), and it’s an issue that employers are really struggling with,” Assistant City Manager David Brooks said.

The targeted property, located in Lebanon Airport-Tech Park, is in a tax-increment financing, or TIF, district where a tax-based public financing formula is used to reinvest in economic development projects.

City officials announced a plan on Wednesday in coordination with community partners. Since August 2021, the city has worked with a consortium that included Vital Communities and Dartmouth College, to identify solutions to the child care shortage in the Upper Valley.

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Prior to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Upper Valley was estimated to need an additional 2,000 additional child care openings, according to the city’s press release.

This shortage is estimated to be even higher following the pandemic, “as some childcare providers have gone out of business and others are operating at reduced capacity due to staffing shortages,” the release states.

The Boys & Girls of Central New Hampshire, a nonprofit provider of child and adolescent programs, will oversee the operations at the city-owned facility.

The Boys & Girls Clubs, headquartered in Concord, operates more than 25 early learning centers and -after school programs in the state, including in Allenstown, N.H., where Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland served as town manager before accepting the top administrative role in Lebanon.

According to Brooks, Mulholland’s previous collaboration with the Boys & Girls Clubs to open the Boys & Girls Club of Suncook in Allenstown, N.H., was influential in Lebanon’s choice for a partner.

“The goal of the city owning and maintaining the facility is to help lower those operating costs for the Boys & Girls Clubs, to where it could be affordable for the 51% or more of the families who will use it,” Brooks explained.

The majority of enrollments will be from families earning 80% or less than the area median income. In Grafton County the median family income is $87,400, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.

The city aims to have the facility open on weekends, pay competitive wages and benefits and “offer on-the-job training” to new child care workers.

The Boys & Girls Club runs a teaching lab at NHTI, a community college in Concord, to provide instruction and training in early childhood education.

In an interview, Chris Emond, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire, said the Lebanon child care center likely will have on-site classrooms so that the students can do classroom observations and increase their hands-on learning opportunities.

The city expects to have cost projections upon the completion of a conceptual design plan, which city officials hope to receive in October.

The project will be largely funded through donations and grants, including Community Development Block Grants, or CDBGs, a federal fund for local community-based projects such as affordable housing, infrastructure development and anti-poverty initiatives.

The city has contracted Placework Studio, a architectural firm in Portsmouth, N.H., to provide the design and architectural planning. Lebanon is still seeking a firm to oversee the construction details.

The city hopes to be ready to seek construction bids in early 2024 and to begin construction later that year, with a targeted completion date in 2025.

“We are in the early stages at this point,” Brooks said. “But we know that this is a need, and we are committed as a city to fill it.”

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or at 603-727-3216.

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