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Day care seeks a place to call home

  • Pine Hill Child Care Center toddler associate teacher Carol Busch, reads to Owen Kandalikis, 2, and Kiran Galbraith, 3, on Friday. The center will move next week from ConVal High School to a summer location in Wilton.
  • Students at Pine Hill Child Care Center, which will move next week to a new location in Wilton
  • Pine Hill Child Care Center held a  Festival of Flowers, Fruit and Fire celebration with parents and grandparents last week. Shown during a singing of "The Farmer in the Dell" are, from left, students Bridgette Hill, 4, Brady Clark, 5, and Ali Hamilton, 3.
  • Students at Pine Hill Child Care Center, which will move next week to a new location in Wilton
  • Students at Pine Hill Child Care Center, which will move next week to a new location in Wilton
  • Students at Pine Hill Child Care Center, which will move next week to a new location in Wilton
  • Students at Pine Hill Child Care Center, which will move next week to a new location in Wilton

PETERBOROUGH — Families with children at the Pine Hill Child Care Center are facing a tough decision, as teachers and staff prepare to move out of the space at ConVal High School that the center has been using for the past eight years.

As of July 1, the day-care program will have a new name: A Child’s Nature — Care and Education. And Pine Hill Waldorf School, which had leased the space at ConVal, is allowing A Child’s Nature to use one of its buildings in Wilton from July 1 to Aug. 16. But that’s not a long-term solution and the Wilton location isn’t ideal for many of the families who live in Peterborough and neighboring towns.

“We’re really not sure what will happen for the future,” said the center’s director, Peggy Waterhouse, on Friday. “Twelve families are following us to Wilton for the next seven weeks. Our priority has been to find a place for the immediate future. Once we stabilize and get moved out here, we may be able to focus on a business plan and see what options are available.”

Waterhouse said she started looking for a new home late last year, after the Pine Hill Waldorf School notified the ConVal School District that it was removing its oversight of the Pine Hill Child Care Center. Pine Hill Waldorf is in the process of establishing its own child-care program and the intent was to spin off the Peterborough program as an independent entity.

“In November, we were told that ConVal had other options for using the space that didn’t involve a day-care program,” said Waterhouse. While Pine Hill Waldorf School had not been paying rent to ConVal under the terms of its agreement, Pine Hill Child Care Center had been providing care for four identified preschool students at no cost to the school district and has offered space to care for children of ConVal students so they could continue to attend high school. The center also provided care for children of ConVal teachers and staff, who paid for the service. The center offered internship opportunities, too, for ConVal students in the Applied Technology Center’s child-care program.

ConVal administrators eventually recommended moving alternative education students from trailers at the high school into the space that the child care center has been using. ConVal is establishing a preschool program next year at Peterborough Elementary School, which will also be used to train high school students in the child-care program.

So now Waterhouse and the new board of directors of A Child’s Nature are faced with the challenge of finding a suitable and affordable space that’s convenient for the families they serve.

“Being in Wilton is not our first choice. We are still pursuing options in Peterborough,” said board chair Mary Lou O’Neil of Hancock on Monday. “So far, at all the places we’ve looked, the retrofit cost has been around $100,000, which is steep on top of rent.”

Waterhouse recently investigated two sites in Greenfield, looking into using the space formerly occupied by a child care program called Norah’s Depot and even getting site plan approval last month to set up a day-care center at a home on Forest Road. But the costs to bring those locations up to state code were just too great.

“We’d have needed to be [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant before even opening the doors,” Waterhouse said. “The money issues just became untenable.”

Several parents have been urging the ConVal School Board to consider providing space for the day-care program and Waterhouse hasn’t given up on the possibility of using school district space at some point down the road. She met a few weeks ago with members of the Selectmen’s Advisory Committee to the ConVal School Board. Waterhouse said she is hoping select board members might investigate to see if there is available space in any of the elementary schools in their towns.

“There was a willingness to continue the conversation,” she said.

But O’Neil, who is the school-to-work coordinator for the school district and worked with Waterhouse to place student interns at the center, said the main focus is to find a space that can be ready to go by the middle of August.

“We have only a little bit of money to work with,” she said. “We need to find a place so we can start advertising and start fundraising. We can’t go into grant-seeking mode until we have a place.”

Waterhouse said the eight full-time and five part-time staffers could be out of jobs soon, because the center, which once served 45 families, has seen so many people drop out.

O’Neil said she’s still hoping to convince someone in Peterborough to make space available at a reasonable cost.

“We’re trying not to leave any stone unturned,” she said. “We’re hoping it could be a win-win situation for someone who has a lot of vacant space. We hope there’s a child-care angel out there.”

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