BAR HARBOR — The Jackson Laboratory is adding another employee amenity to recruit and retain staff.
Coming off the back of an apartment complex opening a few weeks ago, the Bar Harbor Planning Board signed off Sept. 7 on a proposal for a new onsite child care center to serve lab employees. The center, consisting of a 6,800-square-foot building, should accommodate 53 children.
“We’re trying to be the employer of choice in the state, if not beyond, and we think this offers an attractive benefit to our employees,” said John Fitzpatrick, senior director of facility services at Jackson Lab.
According to employee surveys conducted by the lab, the second largest issue they face – right after housing – is day care. Those findings echo similar sentiments expressed in a report by the Maine Center for Economic Policy, identifying child care as one of the top issues the state of Maine should address.
Laid out in the “State of Working Maine” report, one in eight mothers were out of the workforce due to a lack of child care during August of last year. Now some employers, like the lab, are creating solutions to those problems exacerbated by the pandemic.
“Anybody that either has kids or has grandchildren that have kids understands that the issue is not just here on the island but really everywhere throughout the state of Maine,” Fitzpatrick said.
Fitzpatrick said this facility will hopefully bring back employees who left the workforce during the pandemic to take care of their children. There are also couples looking to have kids who would use the lab’s child care services.
“We would love to be able to retain them when the time comes by providing on-site day care, and certainly on-site day care is an attraction to new employees,” he said.
Kelly Doran, director of engineering and capital projects for the lab, said there are some employees who live in Bar Harbor who make a drive to day care providers in Ellsworth every morning before coming in for work because local child care centers like Kids’ Corner have a two-year waiting list.
Projects like these proposed by the lab alleviate some of the burden placed on the few centers in town by freeing up spaces or the demand for spaces when those children move into the onsite center.
Once the facility opens, full-time Jackson Lab employees in Bar Harbor will have first priority for enrollment, but if there are spots left over, Fitzpatrick said they are welcome to the public.
Plans for the wood-framed single-story building include a fenced outdoor play space and a drop-off loop with 10 parking spaces. The construction site is at the southerly end of campus adjacent to Parking Lot A in a currently undeveloped area.
Jackson Lab, located at 600 Main St., owns the property for the soon-to-be day care, but the Downeast Family YMCA will manage operations. That partnership will run similarly to the Beechland Road Early Learning Center in Ellsworth, which is also lab owned and DEFYMCA operated.
CEO of DEFYMCA Peter Farragher said, “With the need for child care in our communities, we’re really blessed to be part of this project and working with the lab.”
During initial stages in the project proposal, the lab looked to add an extension onto the MDI YMCA that would have housed similar numbers. Those plans were discontinued due to escalating costs. Lab officials rekindled plans for an onsite center in October of last year. Anticipated completion of the project is set for 2023.
“It’s something that’s needed,” said Planning Board Chair Millard Dority.