BANGOR, Maine — Brewer mother Kim Armell gripped a notebook full of lists of preschools and her eyes welled up with tears when she talked about finding a new place to care for her two young children.
But it’s a reality she and more than 100 other local families are facing this week after Life Academy Daycare abruptly announced it was shutting its doors Sept. 12 due to the closing of Grace Church Bangor, where it was located.
In the meantime, day care facilities throughout Bangor, many of which already are saturated, are doing what they can to absorb the Life Academy children, many of whom attended the day care since they were weeks old.
According to a notice sent to parents Tuesday, the leaders of Grace Church announced plans to close the church and day care because of decreased church membership, which in turn has resulted in a loss of income.
“It is with great regret that the board of directors has resolved to close Grace Church Bangor and Life Academy Daycare,” Russ Hewett, senior minister and president, and day care director Heather Collins said in a joint statement to day care parents and guardians.
Almost immediately, parents turned to other facilities in the area. All are vying for the handful of spots still open before the end of summer, which is when preschools and day cares usually reach capacity.
Parkside Children’s Learning Center received 30 calls within hours of the announcement, and Jen Montgomery-Rice, owner and education director, said the school had enrolled 12 new families by the end of the day Wednesday.
“We’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “We’ve never had a center like Life Academy close so quickly and we feel terrible. We had folks crying yesterday. They were beside themselves.”
At Hilltop School, director Stacy Schaffer said she saw a “huge” influx of applications and parents taking tours after the announcement Tuesday. Fortunately for them, she said the school does have openings and was able to accommodate some families. However, Hilltop, along with other preschools in the city, often only take 3- and 4-year-olds. That means parents with both infants and preschoolers have tough choices to make.
For Armell, who reserved a spot at Hilltop for her 4-year-old son Henry, this is the first time her daughter Hazel, 18 months, will not attend school with her brother. However, Armell said it’s more important for her to find a pre-kindergarten program for Henry and then figure out her daughter’s care based on his schedule.
“I’m right stressed out,” Armell said. “I’m all emotional, I know they’ll be fine … it’s just sad.”
For other parents, it’s not about finding space in an already saturated day care and preschool market, but finding the right place.
Misty Bennett of Bangor had toured all the other schools in the area before choosing Life Academy for her kids. To her, it was the only fit for her children — a 4-year-old who has moved on to public pre-K and a 15-month-old daughter.
Now she doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t want to send them elsewhere, but she has only a few weeks to find an alternative.
“I feel like I’ve checked into them all and found one for us and now I’m being forced into a compromise,” she said, adding that she has even talked with Life Academy teachers about possibly having one of them come to her home. “Moving the school to another location sounds like a simple solution, but I know it’s not simple.”
Starting a new school is not being discussed formally, however, it is possible if enough teachers and students were interested, though it would take time.
For Life Academy, though, which is operated by the church, this is the end of the road.
Life Academy director Heather Collins was not speaking with media Wednesday.
Life Academy opened in September 2002 at Abundant Life Church, which later became Grace Church. Hewett said that while the school didn’t provide religious education, it did teach “basic Christian ethics.”
And though the school is located on the church’s campus and overseen by its board of directors, many parents didn’t consider them one and the same.
“It’s just shocking … I never really viewed it as part of the church. … It’s so unfair that it’s closing even though it’s the church that had the problems,” Bennett said.
If there’s a silver lining for families, though, it’s that the limited options for preschools mean that many of the students relocated most likely will know at least one or two fellow Life Academy children at their new schools. It’s a fact that offers some comfort to Armell, who learned that at least two of Henry’s friends already were enrolled at Hilltop.
“Several of the students [at Life Academy] he’s grown up with since they were babies,” she said. “It’s just sad … but I’m a firm believer that it will all work out and I know it will.”
The church will be hold an open forum for parents and the public to ask questions about the decision and impending closure from 6 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 28, at the church, 1404 Broadway.