The Jackson Laboratory rekindles childcare plans with onsite facility proposal

BAR HARBOR — After plans for a childcare facility in partnership with the Mount Desert Island and Down East Family YMCA were halted earlier this year, The Jackson Laboratory has proposed building a new childcare center on its campus in Bar Harbor.

“Accessible childcare is critical to attract and retain employees at the Laboratory,” said Catherine “Katy” Longley, the executive vice president and chief operating officer at the lab. “Having nearby quality childcare for parents leads to happier employees and families and better work/life balance.”

Lab officials laid out the idea to the Bar Harbor Planning Board last week and asked if the board had any suggestions or foresaw any logistical issues with the preliminary proposal.

The lab is looking to construct a 6,000 to 7,000 square foot facility with parking and an outdoor play area, said Kelly Doran, the lab’s director of engineering and capital projects. The childcare center would have rooms for infants, toddlers and young children, as well as offices and other space to support the facility. The age range is expected to run from infants to about 5 years old.

The lab is looking at have the facility managed by an outside organization, as it does for food services.
The lab previously teamed up with the YMCA to build a facility on the YMCA property, but in April rising costs scuttled the project.

After that, the lab started to look at potential properties around Bar Harbor but was unable to find anything suitable in the sizzling hot real estate market. The lab then turned inward and looked at its own properties and believed it would be able to build a childcare center under the “accessory use” provision of the town zoning regulations, an assessment the Planning Board seemed to agree with.

Lab officials will undertake a feasibility study on the idea, and a report is expected to be done before the end of the year. Access from Schooner Head Road or Route 3, appropriate green space and the ability to extend utilities to the building would all be important factors, according to Doran.

The proposed facility would accommodate 40 to 50 children. The lab’s intent is to provide space to lab employees’ children first, Doran said. If there are other vacancies, the lab would want to open those up to the community.
Childcare can be tough to come by on the island, and Longley said that as the lab continues to grow, the need has become more acute.

A message on the Kids’ Corner answering machine tells perspective parents they should expect a two-year wait. Parents looking to get their babies into Harbor House in Southwest Harbor should also expect a wait.
“It’s hard to find care,” said Ingrid Wilbur Kachmar, the executive director of Harbor House. “Right now, our baby room is full, and we won’t see an opening in that until sometime in July.”

Kachmar said there aren’t a lot of other places that work with children under 18 months old, and it’s hard to find staff. The lab presents another challenge because its hours don’t always line up with day care programs, she said.
Millard Dority, a Planning Board member and the former president of the Kids’ Corner board, praised the lab for taking the initiative.

“I applaud you guys,” he said. “Childcare is such an issue.”

Ethan Genter

Ethan Genter

Former reporter for the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Ethan covered maritime news and the town of Bar Harbor.

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