The lights are dimmed low in a classroom at the Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center on Tuesday as the teachers are getting ready for kids to have their naptime. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

FARMINGTON — When we last saw the site of the new home for the University of Maine Farmington’s Sweatt-Winter Childcare and Education Program on 274 Front St., it was still under construction. Piles of sawdust collected in the corners and cables were strung about the empty corridors.

Officially opening its doors on Oct. 23, the long-awaiting building has come together with staff and children settling into the new location with ease. In her office, Director Erica Thompson keeps her door open and a stash of toys at the ready for any kids that find themselves in the director’s office.

“I want kids to feel safe and comfortable when they come in,” she shared.

Thompson joined the program in mid-September while the final touches were being put on the building. A 2015 UMF graduate, Thompson is personally familiar with the program which was something Katherine Yardley, interim co-provost and dean of the College of Education, Health and Rehabilitation, felt made her a strong candidate for the position.

“Erica brings a unique set of strengths and perspectives to the director’s position,” she said in a press release. “Not only is she a knowledgeable and experienced leader, but her experience as a UMF graduate and Sweatt-Winter parent has contributed to her understanding of the richness and complexities of leading a child care center that also serves as a lab school for UMF early childhood and early childhood special education majors.”

The other side of the observation room on Tuesday, which looks into the toddler room, is a place for UMF students to watch teachers work with kids without bothering the classroom environment. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

For more than 30 years, the Sweatt-Winter program has served families in Franklin County and beyond by preparing the next generation of early childhood development professionals for whatever challenges they may face in the field.


The new state-of-the-art Sweatt-Winter Childcare and Education Center promises to expand on that legacy and transform the look of child care in the future while also preparing university students for their careers in education. The center takes a comprehensive approach to creating an environment that nurtures children’s holistic development and is a vibrant mix of children, teachers, university students, and UMF early childhood faculty who work directly with the staff and students daily.

Previously a NotifyMD call center, the building doubles the amount of space compared to the program’s previous location. At approximately 10,384-square-feet, the building offers four separate rooms based on a child’s age along with a kitchen, a classroom for UMF students, an observation room for students to watch teachers working with children and a kitchen.

With the new features on the site, Thompson has lots of ideas for expansion, but she is using the first year to test the program in the new building and seeing where to go from there. “This year is obviously a play year,” she stated. “We are figuring out what we use and what’s needed.”

The toddler room of the new Sweatt-Winter Child Care and Early Education Center on Tuesday. The new building will offer four rooms for different age groups as well as a room with a two-way mirror for intrusion-free observation. Brian Ponce/Franklin Journal

The new building is expected to create 20 new slots for children in the Franklin County area, as well as increase enrollment in its undergraduate and graduate early childhood education programs by at least 20% in support of critical state workforce needs in the sector that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The building also features furnishing designed by Dr. Sandra Duncan with Kaplan Early Learning Company. Duncan stated that her design of the furniture, and the layout, was centered around The Potential Place, her trademarked design strategy that connects children’s inner (or emotional) needs with the physical built environment.

“What we’re starting to develop right here,” Duncan said, “it’s the intersection between the child in the space and in that intersection, you give children opportunities to experience power and kinship.”

On her website, Duncan describes the potential place as five design conditions of emotions, which are power, thrill, awe, intimacy and kinship. “Awe and wonder are the spatial conditions of emotion that we’re trying to incorporate into every center and every classroom design,” she said.

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