SCARBOROUGH – It's been almost a month since Scarborough Community Services opened its new location on Payne Road for daycare, and Todd Souza, director of community services, said the space will also open more programs to cater to the city's needs to become.
"I think this building could afford us a lot of things that Scarborough hasn't had in the past," Souza said this week.
The room in the former house of the House of Lights was officially opened on October 5th. During one visit that week the children were busy but organized. Some worked together on craft projects. Others were doing schoolwork on laptops. Still others played in the store's former warehouse, now converted into a gym, with a portable basketball hoop and other indoor exercise equipment.
"We run it like a sports class," said Ryan Colpitts, the department's leisure coordinator, when a student shot baskets nearby.
The department has been taking care of local children before and after school for years and has traditionally worked at the town's primary schools, Wentworth and Scarborough Middle Schools. Space was always tight, according to Souza and Audra Keenan, the department's intergenerational program manager. In a typical year up to 20-50 children per school building were cared for, which was still not enough. In 2018, during the summer daycare program, there was a waiting list of more than 90 children, according to Keenan.
"We couldn't meet most of our facilities," said Souza.
Souza realized that the city needed more space when the coronavirus pandemic broke out this spring and forced schools to halve the number of children allowed inside to maintain social distance. He discovered the 13,000-square-foot Payne Road site was available for purchase or rental and the department moved in.
The lease costs $ 14,000 per month, but Souza noted that the building isn't just used for daycare. Most of the department staff who previously used space in the Town Hall and Wentworth School have moved in, with the exception of the park officials and property maintenance equipment, which remain on the Scarborough High School grounds. Keenan said the move is far better than splitting senior program, youth recreation, and daycare coordinators across multiple locations.
"The difference is that we're all in one building so we can help each other," she said.
Souza said he also thinks the building could serve as a center for community training, exercise classes, and other advanced programs if needed, but the immediate need he wanted to meet was daycare and he achieved that goal. The building's day care center was designed for up to 50 children per day and currently has between 27 and 37 children.
"We wanted to do the right thing and fill those gaps for parents," he said.
The building appears to be meeting all of the guidelines the pandemic requires: everyone, including the children, wears a mask, maintains social distance, and uses hand sanitizer. The children can also connect to their classrooms via the building's WiFi so that they can take part in remote learning just like at home.
Sara Perry, intern and advisor to the program, said that while she is not acting as a childcare teacher, she will offer additional help when the children need it. She also helps ensure that they finish their work on time and log into the school's online systems.
"I think I've done more math in second and third grades in the past few months than in years," she joked.
But the kids seemed to be adjusting this week, standing in a row with arms outstretched to make sure they were far enough apart. One child assured her counselor that she had washed and disinfected her hands, while other children made sure that they sat with clear plastic plates between them.
"They took it a lot better than some of the adults," Perry said.
Janine Somers, 41, has been using Scarborough's daycare for years, first for her son, who is now in high school, and now for her daughter Lily, 6. She and her husband both work at home because of the pandemic, but both have been with for hours Zoom calls and she said it was difficult to make sure her daughter was in touch with her teachers throughout the day.
"We went to so much trouble to support their distance learning," she said.
Somers said when she and Lily visited the building for an open house, "Her eyes were so big" and that she particularly liked the idea of indoor training.
"She was super excited that they turned this warehouse into a gym," she said.
Sean Murphy 780-9094
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