BREWER, Maine — Brewer Community School fourth-grader Cole Dumond, 9, held a book in his hand called “Critters” that he used as a guide Wednesday to paint an owl and other Maine animals on the walls of the Brewer Housing Authority’s new childcare center.
The childcare center is located within the nearly $2.5 million Brewer Community Center, which is holding an open house at 1 p.m. on Dec. 12, to alert area residents to the new complex’s availability for their use.
Dumond and a dozen other gifted and talented students, led by teacher Sue Ann Gaitings, have been working together for days after school preparing to decorate the inside of the childcare room.
“We’ve been sketching animals, Maine scenes, different habitats,” Gaitings said as her students painted a mural featuring the four seasons in Maine with mountains, the woods and its creatures, communities, waterways and fish.
“Abigail Bennett, an eighth-grade student, created the template,” the teacher said, pointing at a rectangular pencil drawing on the floor.
A number of local children got their start under the tutelage of child care provider Jean Lyford, so it is very fitting that the housing authority’s new childcare center is named in her honor, Executive Director Gordon Stitham said Wednesday.
“Everybody you talk to went to her nursery, the Jack & Jill Nursery,” Stitham said while giving a tour of the facility made possible by a nearly $2.5 million Department of Housing and Urban Development grant.
Lyford, 90, ran the Jack & Jill Nursery out of her Brewer home for 35 years and she and her husband of 69 years, Lawrence “Bud” Lyford, a former housing authority board member, have spent a lifetime giving back to the community, Stitham said.
“There is some connection here,” he said, noting one of the classrooms is named in the couple’s honor.
The 11,700-square foot community center also features a teleconference room, and function rooms called Dartnell, Chamberlain, Penobscot and Brewer, in honor of the city.
The Lyford center will offer a Headstart daycare program run by Bangor-based social services agency Penquis to provide affordable child care to low- to moderate-income families in the Greater Bangor-Brewer area who are taking classes, in job training or are employed, Stitham said.
The Brewer Community Center, located at 10 Cutler Place, sits behind the recently opened 32-unit Chamberlain Place senior housing project at 258 Chamberlain St. and is nestled in the middle of the Dartnell Apartments. The facility is accessed via Beacon Street.
The housing authority applied for a portion of $15 million in federal funds to build preschool, adult education or job training facilities and learned in September 2011 that it was one of five chosen from a pool of 58 organizations nationwide that applied.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded Brewer $2,491,690 to build the one-story community center and local construction firm Nickerson & O’Day was awarded both the community center and Chamberlain Place projects.
“The key here is: Brewer Housing Authority got the award and built it and now we want the citizens in the area to use it,” Stitham said.
The community center’s classrooms are for housing authority residents to take classes to further their education, learn about homeownership and other opportunities through the Family Economic and Self-Sufficiency and the Resident Opportunity and Self-Sufficiency programs.
“The educational program is run by our partners,” he said. “They bring their staff and their equipment to do the educational training in these rooms.”
Educational partners include Eastern Maine Development Corp., the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, Bangor Adult & Community Education, and Eastern Maine Community College.
Other educational opportunities will be offered at the center for area residents, Stitham said, stressing that the facility is meant to be used by the community.
Information Technology Exchange-PC’s of Maine is providing 18 wireless computers, which will be connected to the University of Maine in order to offer online or satellite classes, Stitham said.
The Brewer Housing Authority also is in the process of renovating the vacant Brewer Middle School into affordable housing for residents 55 and older.
In addition to the mural in the preschool area, Brewer High School students are planning to do two additional murals in the community center, and a 2000 graduate has donated artwork that will be placed on display, Stitham said.
Three of the Brewer Community School students who spent part of their morning painting the mural in the Jean Lyford Child Care Center said they loved working on the project and are excited about being a part of history.
“It’s cool,” said seventh-grader Lana Sabbagh, 12, who worked on the Penobscot Narrows Bridge scene.
“I want to come back someday and see it,” said seventh-grader Connor Bell, 12, who painted an old L.L. Bean boot with a hole in the toe and its tongue sticking out sitting on the edge of a field.
“I want to bring my kids here,” said sixth-grader Vanessa Albee, 11, who painted the Penobscot River and city of Belfast.