Students work on their laptops at Scarborough’s new daycare facility on Payne Road. Kids who do remote learning for part of the week can connect to their classes just as they might at home. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

SCARBOROUGH — It’s been nearly a month since Scarborough Community Services opened its new location on Payne Road for daycare, and Community Services Director Todd Souza said the space will also open up more programs to meet the town’s needs.

“I think this building could afford us a lot of things Scarborough hasn’t had in the past,” Souza said this week.

The space at the former home of the House of Lights officially opened Oct. 5. During a visit this week, the kids were busy but organized. Some worked on craft projects together. Others were doing schoolwork on laptops. Still others were playing in what was once the store’s warehouse, now converted into a gym, with a portable basketball hoop and other indoor sports equipment.

“We run it kind of like a gym class,” said Ryan Colpitts, the department’s recreation coordinator, as a student shot baskets nearby.

The department has run before and after-school care for local kids for years, traditionally operating out of the town’s elementary schools, Wentworth and Scarborough Middle schools. Space was always at a premium, according to Souza and Audra Keenan, the department’s intergenerational programs manager. In a typical year, care was provided to as many as 20-50 kids per school building and it still wasn’t enough. In 2018, during the summertime daycare program, Keenan said, there was a waiting list more than 90 kids long.

“Most of our facilities, we couldn’t meet the need,” Souza said.

Two girls work on craft projects at Scarborough’s new daycare facility on Payne Road. The partitions on the table allow kids to sit together but still remain safely separated. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

Souza realized the town needed more space when the coronavirus pandemic struck this spring, forcing schools to cut the number of kids allowed into buildings in half to maintain social distancing. He discovered the Payne Road location, with more than 13,000 square feet, was available for purchase or lease, and the department moved in.

The lease costs $14,000 per month, but Souza noted the building is used for more than daycare. Most of the department’s staff that previously used space at Town Hall and Wentworth School has moved in, except for parks officials and groundskeeping equipment, which remain on the grounds of Scarborough High School. Keenan said the move is far better than having coordinators for senior programs, youth recreation and daycare all being split between multiple locations.

“The difference is, we’re all in one building, so we can help each other,” she said.

Souza said he also thinks the building can serve as a center for municipal training, exercise classes and other expanded programming if necessary, but the immediate need he wanted to fill was for daycare, and he’s accomplished that goal. The building’s daycare service was designed to accommodate up to 50 kids per day, and right now they have between 27 and 37.

A student at Scarborough’s new daycare facility on Payne Road shoots a basket in the former warehouse-turned-gymnasium, while Ryan Colpitts, recreation coordinator for Scarborough Community Services, looks on. Sean Murphy / For The Forecaster

“We wanted to do the right thing and fill those gaps for the parents,” he said.

The building appears to observe all the guidelines the pandemic demands: Everyone, including the kids, wears a mask, maintains social distance, and uses hand sanitizer. The building’s wifi also allows the kids to connect to their classrooms, so they can participate in remote learning, just as they would if they were at home.

Sara Perry, an intern and counselor with the program, said while she doesn’t serve as the kids’ teacher, she will offer extra help when the kids need it. She also helps make sure they finish their work on time and log it into the school’s online systems.

“I think I’ve done more second and third grade math in the last few months than I have in the last few years,” she joked.

But the kids appeared to be adjusting this week, standing in line with their arms out to make sure they were far enough apart, one child assuring her counselor that she had washed and sanitized her hands, other kids making sure they sat with clear plastic panels between them.

“They’ve taken it on a lot better, even than some of the adults have,” Perry said.

Janine Somers, 41, has been using Scarborough’s daycare services for years, first for her son, who is now in high school, and now for her daughter Lily, 6. She and her husband are both working at home due to the pandemic, but both are on Zoom calls for hours, and she said it’s tough to make sure her daughter connects to meetings with her teachers throughout the day.

“We struggled so much to be able to support her remote learning,” she said.

Somers said when she and Lily visited the building for an open house, “Her eyes were so wide,” and that she particularly liked the idea of indoor exercise.

“She was super-excited that they transformed that warehouse into a gym,” she said.

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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