Peterborough childcare center seeks new home

  • Pine Hill Child Care Center<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

    Pine Hill Child Care Center

    (Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

  • Pine Hill Child Care Center<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

PETERBOROUGH — Peggy Waterhouse, director of the Pine Hill Child Care Center, says the program, currently located at ConVal High School, is at a crossroads.

“We are a childcare center with teachers and families without a name and without a home,” Waterhouse said on Tuesday. “Now I’m really stumped about what to do.”

Waterhouse’s dilemma is the result of two decisions that were really out of her control. First, she said, the board of directors of the Pine Hill Waldorf School in Wilton — the parent organization for the childcare center — chose not to renew its contract with the ConVal School District to use the rooms next to the Applied Technology Center at the high school. Pine Hill Child Care Center has been there for eight years, and other childcare centers previously occupied the space. The agreement with ConVal expires at the end of the school year.

“Pine Hill in Wilton wanted to build on their own campus,” Waterhouse said. “They are in the process of starting a day-care program there. The plan had been to spin us off as a separate school, with a separate board.”

When ConVal was notified in August of the intent not to renew, administrators began discussing options. The current plan, according to School Superintendent Dick Bergeron, is to use the childcare space to house students in ConVal’s alternative education program, moving them from the modular units where they are currently educated. The district would then establish a new preschool program at Peterborough Elementary School, which would serve children between the ages of 3 and 5 who have been identified as needing special education services, as well as an equal number of typical children whose parents would pay tuition.

“We alerted ConVal that we were trying to develop a new entity,” Waterhouse said. “I’ve spoken to [School Board Chair] Butch Estey and to the principals at ConVal and Peterborough Elementary. Their plan seems very well thought out and well along. Our services won’t be needed. We’ll be here until July 1, 2013.”

While the PES program may accommodate many of the 22 preschoolers currently at Pine Hill Child Care, the parents of 10 toddlers and six infants currently enrolled will have nowhere to go next year. And if Waterhouse can’t find a new space, options for childcare, which she says are already limited, will become even fewer.

“With just infants and toddlers, we can’t sustain the financial needs of an organization,” she said. “We’re not sure what to do. We’ll be having a meeting with parents.”

One of those parents, Michelle Stahl of Bennington, said Tuesday that ConVal’s decision to use the space that will be vacated by Pine Hill for the alternative eduction program rather than childcare was shortsighted. Stahl said that the childcare center offers ConVal students in the ATC childcare program an opportunity to work directly with children.

“[ConVal] is a public school that’s here to serve the community,” Stahl said. “They had created a model program. They are going to discontinue having a learning lab right there on the campus. I think that’s crazy. There’s nothing broken here.”

Stahl said the childcare center program benefits many students. “It’s building trades for girls,” she said. “It provides marketable skills for girls who are not college-bound. We’re prepping people to be good at something people really need. At the very least, they are being exposed to high-quality ways of caring for children.”

Bergeron said earlier this week that the ATC childcare program would continue, with students being bused to Peterborough Elementary to work with preschool students there.

Waterhouse said Pine Hill Child Care has not been paying rent to ConVal. Pine Hill provides care for four identified preschool students at no cost to ConVal and has offered space to care for children of ConVal students so they could continue to attend high school. The center also offered care for children of ConVal teachers and staff, who pay for the service.

It would be difficult to pay market value for a similar amount of space, Waterhouse said. So she’s planning to talk to the town of Peterborough and to Monadnock Community Hospital to see if there’s interest in having a childcare program.

“I have calls in,” Waterhouse said. “We want to continue a Waldorf-style program. I have five young teachers who have come through the ConVal ATC program. We’ve had one family with children here for seven years. It’s hard to imagine severing that trust.”

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