Mary Johnson hopeful about Vergennes childcare plans

VERGENNES — A long-awaited childcare center in Vergennes in Armory Lane that could provide care for up to 40 children, including infants, could be built within the next few years, the Vergennes City Council was told last week.
Barbara Saunders, executive director of Middlebury’s Mary Johnson Children’s Center, and consultant Isaac Wagner told the council a recently completed feasibility study had, as expected, identified the need for at least that many childcare slots in the Vergennes area.
“We’re pretty certain there’s a demand for childcare, particularly subsidized childcare,” Wagner said.
Wagner also acknowledged Mary Johnson, which has for about a decade held a purchase option on an Armory Lane building lot, was “still struggling with how to afford” what could be a 7,500-square-foot building with a total project cost of up to $3.2 million. That figure includes planning, permitting, design and engineering, land purchase and construction, he said.
But Saunders sounded a hopeful note.
“I think we are very optimistic,” Saunders said. “Having real numbers to work toward is real progress.”
Wagner said Mary Johnson could more easily afford to build and staff a center without providing infant and toddler care, which requires more intensive and expensive staffing, but that the organization is committed to filling that need in the Vergennes area.
“We want to serve the community,” Wagner said.
Financing for the project would almost certainly require the council’s cooperation in obtaining a Community Development Block Grant, he said, and other components would be smaller foundation and private grants, debt load funded by tuition, and, probably the biggest piece, New Market Tax Credits. Those tax credits encourage investment in projects in communities considered to be economically disadvantaged compared to the rest of the nation.
If built, the Vergennes Mary Johnson center would be on the north side of Armory Lane, next to and west of the site of the new affordable housing project that will break ground there this summer. The senior housing project completed in 2012 is nearby on the opposite side of the road.
Saunders and Wagner visited the council last week for a public hearing required to close the $30,000 Community Development Block Grant awarded to Mary Johnson that funded the feasibility study. Council members reacted favorably to their presentation, which included drawings of a proposed building.

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