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.
Parents 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 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.