Y No Childcare At Mahackeno

Last week, families with children in the Westport Y’s Early Learning Programs received a letter from Tasha Dennison, senior director of child care.

In September, she wrote, the Y had “great hopes” of signing a lease for an “ideal location” to house its Early Learning Programs. That would be a “temporary home,” because a child care wing at the new Mahackeno facility must wait for the 2nd phase of construction to be completed. No official timetable has been set for Phase 2. Phase 1 will open next fall.

Dennison’s letter says “with extreme sadness” that the alternate site — believed to be St. Luke Church — “is no longer an option. The circumstances are unfortunate and beyond our control.”

While the Y continues to search for a new home for its Early Learning Programs, Dennison wrote that finding a suitable location — one that meets state and national Y standards — is “quite challenging.” She warned that if a new site is not found by January 1, the program will end July 1.

YMCA logoParents are devastated. They worry where their children will go. They claim the Early Learning Program — which serves approximately 100 children, ages 6 weeks to 6 years, and is beloved for its dedicated teachers, engaging curriculum and community engagement — was not in the 5-year plan for the Y. And they are saddened that staff — some of whom have been with the program for over 16 years — will lose their jobs.

Y leaders held a meeting last night with parents. The Y outlined its challenges: securing a large enough space, at an affordable cost (both rent and converting it to meet licensing requirements); overcoming aversion to childcare programs by neighboring tenants; providing outdoor space.

They also discussed the problems of finding or redesigning space in Phase 1 now under construction, including a modular unit and the Sunny Lane home the Y owns.

Other alternatives proposed included the Kemper-Gunn House (currently located next to the Y on Church Lane, it’s slated to be moved across Elm Street to the Baldwin parking lot), and asking other childcare programs not currently offering full-time sessions, such as Earthplace, to expand their offerings.

A rendering of the new YMCA at Mahackeno.

A rendering of the new YMCA at Mahackeno.

A woman who attended the meeting, and contacted “06880” this morning, said she left “with a disappointed heart and very low expectations” for the future of the programs. She called the meeting “raucous and contentious from the beginning,” with “heated discussion from parents.”

She said that each alternative proposed by parents was met with “derisive comments that dismissed options as untenable, even with offers to fundraise, offers to facilitate public outreach and generate community awareness of the plight, and all other manners of assistance….Our offers to assist in any capacity, speak on behalf to elected officials, town representatives, and various boards of oversight were brusquely rebuffed.”

Westport Y CEO Rob Reeves was in a meeting this morning, and unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, another meeting is set for tonight. This one will address the concerns of another set of parents: those concerned that the long-running gymnastics and dance programs will also no longer be offered at Mahackeno.

Those spaces too are scheduled for inclusion in Phase 2.

19 responses to “Y No Childcare At Mahackeno

  1. Add to this no diving, no racket ball, no men’s club.
    Doesn’t seem like an improved facility with so many left out.

  2. Gloria Gouveia, Land Use Consultants

    If someone from the Y would provide me with their space requirements, I’d be happy to put my thinking cap on.

  3. They’d planned on dumping their award-winning gymnastics program for quite some time, along with Sally Silverstein and other long-term staff.

  4. I am struck by a couple of things here:

    1) the obvious perception of “bait and switch”, particularly as the children’s day care was held up to be a prime example of how important the Y is to the community during the entire debate on the move. Surely something so important to its mission would be better attended to.

    2) the fact that we have another contentious issue regarding the Y. This is so sad, even in uber-contentious Westport, one would hope that they could have avoided this (again), without another threat to close it down.

  5. Good

    Sent from my iPhone

  6. I am hoping there is a different scenario for the gymnastics program. They have already identified a good space, but the CEO is nervous about signing the lease because he wants to make sure that people will sign up for the new and temporary location. People either need to go to the meeting and voice their commitment or send an email to the CEO.

  7. Elizabeth Thibault

    Parents are a force, but the question is does the Y leadership have the will to accept help and offers from others. If you have expertise, please be vocal and public about it, because the Y will not reach out. From what we’ve seen in the past behavior, if the administration there has announced something, the time for dialog is past. I pray in this instance that I’m wrong, as there are innocent children, hard working parents, and dedicated teachers and caregivers involved – a number well beyond the direct head count of enrollment. The community as a whole would be well served by the Y coming to the table honestly and working towards a real-world (vs. perfect word) solution.
    Otherwise, it’s just another nail in the coffin that the Westport Weston Y is looking to be a glorified gym in the already oversaturated market of Fairfield County.

    • Gloria Gouveia, Land Use Consultants

      Let me be very clear. I am not soliciting for work. I’m simply offering the benefit of my experience and knowledge of the Town to find potential options to meet the Y’s deadline.

      In order to do so, I only require the Y to provide me with their requirements for the space.

      Consider my offer a good deed on behalf of Dan Woog and his loyal followers.

      • Elizabeth Thibault

        I wouldn’t judge someone either way :)
        I think that the offer to assist is gracious and in the true spirit of community and fostering dialog. At the meeting last night, the Y had an associate of a firm that was assisting in the search, but he and the administrators could only present what they weren’t able to do. We certainly do need someone with a creative vision and flexibility in maneuvering the intricacies involved with a childcare facility. That being said, as Dan noted above, parents with expertise in the area were rebuffed by the Y representatives, so this may be a challenge.

  8. Chrissy O'Keeffe

    Being relatively new to Westport, I am catching up on this very long and sorted YMCA history…that said, the leadership is not doing anything to improve good will towards the organization. Given the YMCA core mission, it is unfathomable to me that child care was not made a top priority in the Phase 1 plans. Given the stringent space requirements to house a child care program, this program was not set up for success from the day that decision was made – and the sad part is, I get the distinct impression that the key decision makers cast their votes knowing this would be the ultimate outcome. The CEO and Board remain convinced that their main revenue drivers will come from the usage of “flexible space” and a fancy new fitness center…the classic, “if we build it, they will come” strategy. Good luck with that.

  9. I am saddened that no alternative for Y childcare can be found. It is a wonderful program with wonderful teachers. We were affiliated with the Y’s childcare for over 8 years and I would not trust an infant in any other hands than Miss Kelly, Miss Catie, Miss Kay and Miss Candy. If no alternative can be found, Westport has lost a true institution in early childhood education.

  10. All I can say is they (the Y) has some nerve. Whatever happened to priorities. How dare they put the childcare into Phase 2. Maybe the Wilton Family Y will take us?

  11. Is there administrative office space in the Phase 1 build? Might not that space be re-purposed to childcare and other mission-critical Y programs, while the adminstrators work from easier-to-find general office space pending Phase 2? By doing this, the Y would better convey an image of sharing the inconvenience they are presently foisting on the community.

    I am a former 26-year resident of Westport whose children benefitted from many years of childcare, swim, and dance programs at the Y. I hope the Y will continue its mission to serve ALL of the community, particularly with those excellent programs for which alternatives are not readily available. (Note: Weightlifting rooms with Stairmasters and such ARE readily available elsewhere.)

    • Chrissy O'Keeffe

      Re-purposing planned space from the Phase 1 design was discussed in detail at the parents meeting last night. Apparently the executive office space is included in Phase 1 but is “very small” and would not meet the child care needs….that being said, I still have a hard time believing that with over 50,000 sq ft. of space being built, the child care program which needs less than 5,000 sq ft. cannot be fit in somewhere. We are not asking for a wing. We just need a few classrooms.

      However, the executive team made it abundantly clear that they are not willing to consider any design changes – that ship has sailed. Not to worry though – the child care program is a key part of Phase 2…which is unfunded with no apparent timeline in sight. And when the parents volunteered to help lead the fundraising efforts for the child care area, not only did they not take us seriously, but they weren’t able to provide even a rough estimate of the projected cost.

      Unfortunately, the key stakeholders of this program, the parents, were brought into the discussion about 2 years too late. I would also venture to guess that 95% of the Campaign donors to date had no idea what they were giving up when they sent in their checks. So much for transparency and community building.

    • “Note: Weightlifting rooms with Stairmasters and such ARE readily available elsewhere.”

      Ummm…..probably even more choices for child care assuming you believe the town website.

      http://www.westportct.gov/index.aspx?page=570

      • Elizabeth Thibault

        Thanks for sharing the link – it’s a bit of knowledge that only a parent would have, in that the programs and services that are offered vary greatly from provider to provider. Some offer an NAEYC accredited program, many do not have full time (40 hour work week) programs, and many are at capacity. It’s a sad truism, that childcare is a competitive sport.

  12. Chrissy O'Keeffe

    If you need a part-time program (meaning 3 hours of care, 2 days a week) for your 3 year old during school months, then yes – there are plenty of options. However, if you are looking for a full-time, 12 month program that includes infants through pre-school this lists gets significantly smaller.

    • Good point that I did not think about….it’s been a while since my kids were in child care. Thank you.

  13. Eric William Buchroeder SHS '70

    As any good parent knows and as any good “Family Y” should know, the needs of the kids must come first, not last. This situation is a joke on top of an earlier joke. Maybe vacant retail space in “the new and improved downtown” could be donated by the developers until the Emerald City of Recreation is ready to take first things first. Naaaaah.