Area day care centers are scrambling to accommodate kids enrolled at Lollipop Lane Educare, a Westbrook center that closed its doors Friday with just a day’s notice to parents.

“We are fielding many calls and trying to assimilate as many children as we can at our schools,” said Steve Brier, executive director of The Little Dolphin School, which has day care centers in Westbrook and Scarborough. “We have already accommodated some of the families, and we have an open house tomorrow.”

Parents of kids enrolled at Lollipop Lane learned Thursday that the center was closing, leaving 40 people jobless.

Owner AnneMarie Hebert said she could no longer afford to pay her bills.

“We have a million-dollar payroll and pay $27,500 a month rent,” she said. “We got behind in that … The overhead just got crazy.”

Lollipop Lane also pays $1,000 weekly for food and buys formula and baby wipes for all 210 kids enrolled. She said 81 of her students are on state subsidy programs, some of which reimburse at below-market rates.

Hebert said she was negotiating Wednesday evening to rent a different space for $11,000 monthly, but she realized she couldn’t make payroll during the transition. Hebert said she and her staff started calling parents Thursday, and put a memo on the center’s Facebook page.

Todd Hurtubise, part owner of Toddle Inn Child Care in Westbrook, said he and his staff fielded roughly 40 calls from parents, many of them desperate to find other accommodations, between Thursday afternoon and Friday.

“You know it’s bothering them,” Hurtubise said. “Some are nice about it. Others are more verbal, saying, ‘I can’t believe (Hebert) did this to us. We need care now.’ “

Hebert said she understands parents’ frustration. “I know that hits their panic button,” she said. “We are really sorry if we impacted parents’ lives.”

Brier and Hurtubise said continued high unemployment has clobbered day care centers. Parents without jobs, they said, don’t need care, and those with low-paying jobs can’t afford it.

“It’s been a very difficult couple of years for everyone in the child care industry,” Brier said. “Children have been pulled out, or have gone from full time to part time.”

Hurtubise said parents need to make at least $600 a week for day care to be worthwhile. But even that salary might stretch some budgets thin — Toddle Inn charges $220 weekly for kids ages 1 to 3, a rate Hurtubise said is close to the standard.

Hurtubise said he’ll get extra business from Lollipop’s closing, and he may open two unused day care rooms and enroll up to 50 more kids.

But Hurtubise said space is limited, and some parents may have to call in sick next week.

To avoid that, Lollipop Lane is hosting a meeting today from 9 a.m. until noon, when parents can meet other day care providers.

Hebert is holding a sale this afternoon. She said everything is fair game, including couches, chairs, tables, bookcases, baskets and an oversized ruler.

 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or: [email protected]