Neck of the Woods child care center, Waitsfield, has received its Agency of Natural Resources permit to construct a public water system at its campus -- the former Small Dog property.
“We’re in the two-week public comment period on the permit and Clearwater Filtration has placed orders for the equipment which will arrive in eight weeks,” said Neck of the Woods board chair J.B. Weir.
“As soon as we received that permit, the Mad River Valley Community Fund (MRVCF) gave us a grant of $100,000 to cover the cost of construction,” Weir added.
Neck of the Woods (NOW) previously received a $50,000 grant from the community fund to aid in its purchase of the Small Dog campus. That grant was matched by an anonymous $50,000 grant, which along with a Vermont Community Loan Fund grant allowed NOW to purchase the property from Don and Hapy Mayer in late January after the Mayers allowed the center to operate rent free from the 11-acre campus starting last June.
REMOTE LEARNING SITE
The child care center was designated one of the state’s remote learning sites during the COVID state of emergency which allowed it to operate without complying with federal Clean Water Act regulations that require child care centers serving more than 24 people or 18 children and six staff members must be on a public water system.
In February, the NOW board and staff learned that the timeline for installing a public water system would expire in late February, which resulted in NOW moving its students to other off-campus locations where they remain today.
NOW worked with Clearwater Filtration on the design and construction of a public water system which they’d hoped could be installed this summer, but supply chain issues mean that the tanks, equipment and control panels won’t arrive for eight weeks after the permit comment timeframe closes.
ONUS ON PROVIDERS
Russ Bennett, who serves on the board of NOW and has been helping with the permitting process for the public water system, pointed out that requiring a public water system for any day care serving over 18 kids puts such an onus on day care providers that many are unable to serve enough families to make the enterprise profitable and to improve wages for day care workers.
“There is no work-around and there is no testing or filtration systems that would exclude a small home business from having to meet the federal criteria. For NOW, this means engaging in a giant, rigorous permitting process that was unanticipated and very time consuming,” Bennett said.
Bennett acknowledged that the state does not have the ability to ignore federal regulations but suggested that the state does need to devote resources to helping pre-K and day care facilities, just like it does for public schools.
“They need to make this a priority so that the 19th child doesn’t result in this problem. From a business standpoint, it’s a recipe for disaster,” he added.
NOW founder Moie Moulton said that the current work-around has her infant toddler program taking place at the Waitsfield United Church of Christ and her after school K-6 program at the Moretown Elementary School and her preschool program operating with 20 students and four staff versus 18 students with six staff in an 11,000 square foot building at Small Dog.
Moulton said her summer camp programming will take place at the Moretown Elementary School and she’ll have 139 kids, plus she has a wait list.
She said that having to constantly move kids around from one location to another is not great for kids.
“Kids need consistency, they’ve had to be moved around a lot which is not ideal. Right now, our Wednesday outdoor recreation program is at the church as well and that’s not a great place for them,” she said.
“This aptly demonstrates that infrastructure matters, whether it’s water, broadband or sewer. When the town built its municipal water system, water could have been brought all the way to Mad River Park and it wasn’t,” Bennett added.
While NOW waits for the components to arrive, Moulton and the board are working to meet the needs of the local families seeking child care, including seeking variances of the type that they operated under until last February.
“As rigid as federal water supply rules are, the state does have latitude to provide variances to accommodate the 30 kids who are waiting to get into our infant/toddler program at the Waitsfield church. There’s a little flexibility in granting variances in these