ORONO, Maine — The Orono Town Council approved a new after-school program that will fill a void left in the area when Old Town Recreation recently announced the closure of all of its child care programs.
Orono opted to no longer fund an after-school program through its Parks and Recreation department several years ago due to low enrollment and a lack of consistent space. But with a need in the community and new spaces available to use in town, the council approved a plan Wednesday during a special meeting to renew the program. The after-school program will give parents new options when Old Town Recreation ends its child care programming at the end of August.
Town Manager Sophie Wilson said Orono is working with the University of Maine’s Campus Recreation and RSU 26 — Orono’s school district — to formalize agreements for staffing and space, with the goal of launching registration early next week and a tentative start date of Sept. 13.
The new program will use space in the Asa Adams Elementary School that RSU 26 Superintendent Meredith Higgins has already approved. A survey completed by 105 people who have students at Asa Adams showed that at least 86 would consider sending their kids to the program, Wilson said.
“An after-school program is not about doing private sector work, it’s about creating a vibrant parks and rec program for the community,” Wilson said. “It lays in nicely into the priority to bring families with school-aged children — or to keep them — in our community.”
At a minimum, the program would cost the town $29,538 and at a maximum $59,427, according to a memo Wilson gave to the council. The purpose of the program would not be to turn a profit, but to provide a service to the community, Wilson told the Council.
“I’m fully in support of this. I heard from at least 20 parents [Wednesday] just how in support of this they are, and nightmare stories about how they have been juggling things and just need something,” Councilor Laura Mitchell said.
Last week, Old Town Recreation director Adam Mahaney said his organization has struggled to recruit and retain staff throughout the pandemic and is facing a number of financial burdens, including $20,000 in required building repairs and delays in reimbursements from the state forcing a closure to their child care offerings.
Wilson said in her memo to councilors that with the loss of Old Town’s regional program and newly constructed spaces within the Asa Adams School, there’s space for Orono to once again offer some sort of after-school programming. This, she said, is a necessary community service.
The after school program is expected to cost families about $15 per day and will be able to accommodate about a dozen children to start. Three staff members will oversee the kids. Staffing will be added as enrollment increases in the future to ensure safe ratios of students to staff, Wilson said.