AUGUSTA — A day care and Head Start program that’s been in the city since 1981 has closed.

Program officials blamed a shift from center-based care to home-based help to families, and state budget cuts.

Building Blocks School, a Head Start and day care center tucked within the state’s east side campus on the former grounds of Augusta Mental Health Institute, had 51 children attending its Head Start and subsidized and private child care programs until the decision to close was made. It closed June 1.

Many of its children, and some of its staff, had already left by then, as child care and family assistance providers there worked with families whose children attended Building Blocks to help them find new places to go for their child care and early learning.

“It’s hard for everybody; it was a very difficult decision,” said Lisa Lowery, operations director for Southern Kennebec Child Development Corporation, the nonprofit organization that ran the center. “But we feel better about it because we were able to find new places for all the kids and most of the staff. Things change; needs change.”

Lowery’s son, now 29, was one of the first babies there when Building Blocks first opened.

While state budget cuts that reduced $2 million in general fund financing for Head Start were a factor in the decision to close the center, that was not the top reason, according to Sue Robinson, program manager for the corporation.

She cited a shift by the nonprofit, primarily federally funded Head Start organization from providing assistance to children and families at day care and Head Start centers, to providing assistance to families in their homes.

“Our monitoring of what families needs are, our monthly attendance rate, told us center-based care was no longer the program option that met the needs of a lot of our families,” Robinson said. “So we did a shift in programming, to reduce center-based care and increase our home-based services.”

Lowery said home-based assistance better meets the needs of more and more families, especially families that don’t have transportation to get their children to day care or Head Start. She anticipates the number of families receiving home-based care to increase from about 20 to more than 50.

Jon Martin, a family services worker who worked at Building Blocks since 2008 and for Southern Kennebec Child Development Corporation since 2000, said the center was a great place. So great that he enrolled his own 1-year-old son there for a time.

“I think we do a lot of good; it’s such a wonderful place,” Martin said. “It’s a sad day. A lot of people cared. It’s nice to have a place that you trust.”

Martin had already been laid off from Building Blocks shortly before it closed, although he said the layoff was planned for the summer and was not directly related to it closing. He said he hopes to be rehired and work somewhere else for Southern Kennebec Child Development Corporation.

Lowery said 17 people worked at Building Blocks. Of those, nine have been reassigned to other positions with the agency, one went back to school, three found other jobs, and four were laid off.

Lowery, Robinson and Martin said SKCDC staff, once they learned Building Blocks was likely to close, as early as November of last year, worked with families of children who go there to help them find other child care arrangements, both at other SKCDC facilities and elsewhere.

“If we didn’t start planning for this, that it may be closing, people who needed child care would have been scrambling,” he said. “So we worked to help place people, when openings at other buildings opened up.”

Other corporation child care programs in Augusta include New Adventures at Capital Area Technical Center, Magic Years Center on Industrial Drive, and Webster Center on Franklin Street.

Building Blocks was in leased space in the state-owned Greenlaw Building, where it had five classrooms and a small playground outdoors.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

 


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