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Local childcare center to close; HOPE seeks new tenants

MIDDLEBURY — Faced with financial pressures, Vermont Adult Learning in Middlebury will close its onsite childcare center in June, sending 15 families in search of other options and leaving Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) with another vacancy in its Community Services Building on Boardman Street.
Joe LaRosa, the regional manager for Vermont Adult Learning’s (VAL) Middlebury location, confirmed the childcare center will end its multi-year run at the end of business on Friday, June 28.
LaRosa said that crucial grant funding used to help pay for staffing of the facility is drying up, to the point where VAL officials made the decision last year to close the center. The center got a one-year reprieve while local childcare providers, such as Donna Bailey of the Parent-Child Center of Addison County, looked into ways of continuing the service.
But they said they could not find a financially viable way of making a go of it, LaRosa said, while grants are becoming scarce amid sequestration-related decisions made in Congress.
“We’re disappointed for the community,” he said. “The staff did a wonderful job. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you depend on federal and state grants.”
The childcare service was created in 2000 for families of VAL clients as a convenient place to leave their children while studying toward a degree to lead to better employment. As years went by, the community at large increasingly used those 15 slots, LaRosa noted.
It’s a program that earned a stellar reputation. It is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and has a top rating from Vermont’s Step Ahead Recognition System, which acknowledges childcare programs that go beyond state standards in delivering quality childcare services.
The childcare service is also a Head Start collaborative program and can also receive young clients though the Vermont Department of Children and Families. Most of the children served have received subsidies for their childcare placement.
Betsy Ouellette, longtime director of the VAL Children’s Center, is sorry to see the facility close. She plans to continue her career in the childcare field in the near future.
“I want to continue staying active helping families and children,” she said.
In the meantime, VAL is collaborating with families to fill in the service void.
“We are working toward placing (the children) somewhere else,” LaRosa said.
Bailey said she had hoped the center could be saved, but the numbers weren’t working out.
“It is hard enough (for a center) to break even, let alone make money,” Bailey said. “We looked at the possibility of keeping it going, but with the loss of Head Start money, that was (funding for) a whole teacher.”
Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said closing of the VAL childcare center will be bad news on several fronts.
“It is a big loss to the social services community and to those we are helping deal with financial difficulties,” Montross said. “It is going to make life more difficult for people in this community who are already facing some serious challenges.”
It will also mean another vacancy — and therefore less rent — for HOPE’s Community Services Building, which depends on such revenue to keep the large structure operating. The VAL childcare center vacancy of a little less than 1,000 square feet will be added to two others totaling 725 square feet and another of 1,253 square feet that will open up this summer when Addison County Transit Resources is expected to move into new Middlebury headquarters now under construction.
Montross said HOPE must rent space to nonprofit tenants in order to ensure the building remains exempt from property taxes. The organization makes an annual payment of $750 per nonprofit tenant in lieu of property taxes to the town of Middlebury. That sum currently adds up to $3,740, which is considerably less than the more than $70,000 in property taxes HOPE would owe on the building if it were subject to taxation, according to Montross.
Montross said HOPE must work hard to fill the vacancies.
“We can’t continue to have this happen,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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