Senator King visits UMF’s new child care and education facility – Daily Bulldog


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Sen. King reviews plans and diagrams for the new facility with UMF administrative staff. (Photos by Annie Twitchell)

FARMINGTON – Thursday afternoon, U.S. Senator Angus King toured the new facility for the University of Maine at Farmington’s Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center. The facility is still under construction, but aims to open in the summer of 2023, providing additional child care opportunities and expanding the early childhood teaching program at the college.

Located at 274 Front Street, the new facility will have double the footprint of the current center and will see a 30 percent increase in the number of children that can be cared for at the facility. It was inferred by university staff that the center will still have a waitlist despite the increased capacity, as child care continues to be a critical need for many parents and families in the area.

Senators King and Susan Collins supported $1 million in federal funding for the development of the center, and an additional $1 million through the American Rescue Plan Act funds and distributed by Maine’s Governor Janet Mills administration, without which this expansion would not be possible.

During the tour of the new center, which is still under construction, King noted that he would have to contact Collins and recommend that she visit the center.

“This is phenomenal,” King said, adding that he thought it was a great use of the space. There are spacious rooms for the different age groups: infant and toddler, older toddler, pre-school, and school aged children. In addition the facility will have access to outdoor play spaces, and is within easy walking distance of the Prescott Fields for further outdoor exploration.

Keenan Farwell, right, explains some of the design features to Sen. King.

“Everything in the building is really designed for the kids,” said Keenan Farwell, Director of Facilities Management at UMF. The rooms will have high ceilings, a completely redesigned air handling system, insulation between rooms for sound-proofing to help minimize interference and distractions between classrooms, and nooks, corners, and play spaces perfect for small children.

For the college programs, there are observational rooms with mirrored windows that will allow students to observe and learn without interacting with the children, in addition to hands-on education with supervising teachers and staff.

“[The program] gives you that experience with different age levels,” Breanna Maxim, a junior in the early childhood program at UMF, shared with King.

Erica Thompson, a UMF graduate and parent with children in the center, said that her children love the experience of different teachers working with them at different times. They are excited to share about their new teachers and generally do well with the rotating cast of adults. “The program is amazing, both as a student at UMF and a parent,” Thompson said. “I would recommend this program to anybody in the community.”

Charlie Woodworth with the Greater Franklin Development Council reported that there are a little less than 1,500 children from ages 0 to 5 in Franklin County, and that there are child care spaces for less than half of them.

“Child care is infrastructure,” King noted. Many families in the area have two working parents, making childcare a necessity. Without access to affordable child care services, parents may not be able to return to the workforce, placing them at risk of financial difficulties. King speculated that there may come a point where businesses offer child care as a benefit similar to insurance, either by working with a child care center to reserve spaces for employees and their families, or by providing vouchers for child care expenses.

The increased space will also provide more jobs for work study students, with an estimated 30 to 40 work study positions. The new center is expected to bolster UMF’s already successful early childhood development and education program, and help draw new students seeking a degree in education.

The current child care center in the heart of UMF will be used by the university for other purposes, which have yet to be determined.

A round table discussion with UMF staff, students, and parents.

After touring the center, King sat down with Woodworth, UMF Interim President Joseph McDonnell, UMF Associate Provost and Dean of Education Kathy Yardley, UMF Chief Business Officer Laurie Gardner, Sweatt-Winter Center Director Julie Farmer, Maxim, Thompson, and UMF graduate Sierra Pennington, for a round table discussion on the needs in the area. Childcare remains a high priority, with affordable housing also the focus of many conversations.

The university is working to offer affordable housing in one of the dormitory buildings, although McDonnell noted that housing for students and prospective students at the university remains their first concern.

During the round table meeting, Senator King also discussed matters of Ukraine seeking help to fend off the invasion from Russian troops. He had a recent visit to Ukraine a week ago to meet with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and wished to share some of his thoughts on the situation. He expressed admiration for the Ukrainian people and their leader, saying that his recent visit was still very much on his mind. “This isn’t a charity, we are providing an investment,” King said in regards to America sending over funds to help Ukraine.

“UMF’s Child Care and Early Education Center is more than just a place where children spend their time – it’s a vital community resource that sets Franklin County youth up for a lifetime of learning and success,” said Senator King in a press release following the visit. “The federally-backed renovation will expand access to childcare for families across the region, help address the serious workforce shortage in the vital child care sector, and have positive ripple effects throughout the community and economy. Without affordable childcare, parents are forced out of the workforce and businesses miss out on talented employees – which makes this funding a force multiplier and among the most important investments we can make for the future of our state. I’m so grateful for everything the University of Maine at Farmington is doing to invest in Maine people and enjoyed the chance to see how this new funding will grow its fantastic programs.”

“Through Sweatt-Winter, the University of Maine at Farmington has served families in Franklin County and the surrounding area for more than 30 years. As Sen. King saw first-hand today, our new facility will expand on both that legacy and UMF’s continuing commitment to provide child care for working parents and to educate Maine’s future generation of early childhood educators,” said UMF President Joseph McDonnell. “We are thankful for the Maine congressional delegation’s support of this project, as well as that of Governor Mills, the Maine Legislature, the University of Maine System and many local and state partners. This remarkable facility sets our campus and community apart when it comes to meeting the needs of early childhood educators, area families needing quality child care and Maine employers.”

 

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