Hanover pitches full-day child care program through Parks and Rec

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-26-2024 12:09 PM

HANOVER — Town administrators are developing a plan to open a full-day preschool program to assist municipal employees and residents in need of child care.

The Hanover Parks and Recreation Department is seeking to launch the program on weekdays from 8 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., for children ages 1-4, beginning July 1.

Selectboard members, who are still formulating the town’s next 12-month budget proposal, voiced support for the child care project at their March 18 meeting.

“I’m losing physician and nursing colleagues because of this exact issue,” said Chairman Athos Rassias, an anesthesiologist at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. “People are moving to (other geographic) areas where they can get more services, and it’s really devastating to our local community.”

The average cost of a child care center in New Hampshire — $15,400 per year for an infant and $14,300 per year for a toddler in 2022 — is equivalent to nearly 25% of the median income of a single parent household, New Hampshire Fiscal Policy Group, a nonprofit that advocates for families with low to moderate incomes.

Several child care centers in Hanover and Lebanon advertise full-time tuition that exceeds $20,000 per year.

In Lebanon, municipal leaders have undertaken their own effort to help provide affordable child care. They announced plans in 2023 to build an early child education and infant care facility for up to 200 children and to operate it in partnership with The Boys & Girls of Central New Hampshire.

The goal is to begin constructing the facility in 2025 and to open the center by 2027.

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However, construction is estimated to cost $22 million and is supposed to be funded entirely through donations, grants and tax credits.

The city is still $19 million short of its goal and construction will not proceed until the full funding is secured, City Manager Shaun Mulholland recently said in an email.

Hanover’s proposed program would serve up to 12 children in its first year and expand enrollment in subsequent years to up to 35 children, Parks and Recreation John Sherman said in a phone interview.

At least two spaces in the program will be reserved for children of town employees.

In the last two years, the town has lost employees and prospective hires due to a difficulty finding affordable child care, Sherman said. One Parks and Recreation employee recently quit after having a baby and being unable to find a child care provider in her price range.

“The amount she would have spent on child care to work, she would have been working (mostly) for the employee benefits,” Sherman said.

Hanover currently provides a part-day preschool program at RWB Community Center called PLAY, which provides play-based learning activities and care from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for children ages 1-4.

The current program has six children enrolled, with capacity for 10, said Nicole Leonard, the program director. The new program also would be located in the community center.

“Many of our families said they needed a full-day program,” Leonard said in a phone interview.

The program hours cannot be extended without additional staffing, Sherman said. The current staff have to run the after-school program in the afternoon.

The department anticipates spending $113,740 to hire two full-time child care teachers, plus funds for materials and equipment, such as sleeping mats.

The department is considering a starting salary of $46,000 a year plus benefits for the teachers. The town’s employee benefits, which include state retirement, vacation and sick pay and health and dental insurance, could help attract candidates, Sherman said.

The child care program is expected to be cost-neutral because tuition revenues will offset the operating expenses, Sherman said.

Though tuition rates have not been finalized, the department is considering $1,260 a month for toddlers and $1,080 a month for preschool-aged children, or between $12,900-$15,100 a year, Sherman said. Discounted rates for town employees may also be explored.

The proposed program will not provide infant care.

“Serving children under 12 months of age really changes the needs of the classroom and the space,” Leonard said.

Infants require cribs and changing tables, which take up more space, for example.

The community center’s current classroom space has capacity to serve 12 children, Sherman said. To expand capacity, the department will need to repurpose rooms currently being used for offices and other functions.

Sherman said he hopes to advertise the teacher positions in the summer and to open the full-day program in September.

The Parks and Recreation Department is proposing a total operating budget of $451,000 for next fiscal year — a 29% increase from the current budget. The department also oversees management of town cemeteries.

About 70% of the proposed spending would be offset by projected revenues totaling $319,000.

The Selectboard will hold a public hearing to consider a final budget proposal on Monday at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

As of March 18,the proposed budget for fiscal year ‘25 was $35.6 million, a 5% increase from the current budget.

Hanover’s Town Meeting will be on Tuesday, May 14.

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.