Retirees Nancy and WG Sayre stand at the construction site of an early childhood learning center, which they hope will host up to 60 children from Castine, Penobscot and Orland. PHOTO BY DAVID ROZA

Array of volunteers start work on Castine childcare center



CASTINE — On November 14, a group of physicians, business leaders, teachers and more gathered in Bangor for a summit hosted by the Maine Community Foundation on early childhood development.

The message of the summit was simple: investing in early childhood education programs leads to healthier, more productive and better-educated adults.

“Expanding early learning, including high-quality preschool, provides society a return on investment of $8.60 for every $1 spent,” read a 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Education, which was cited in an informational handout at the summit.

“Children who participate in high-quality preschool programs have better health, social-emotional and cognitive outcomes than those who not participate,” the handout continued.

“They are less likely to utilize special education services or be retained in their grade, and are more likely to graduate from high school, go on to college and succeed in their careers.”

If those statements are true, the future of Maine might not be bright. According to a 2011 U.S. Census statistic cited in the handout, one out of four children in Maine under the age of five lives below the federal poverty level. Meanwhile, Head Start in Maine serves only 31.5 percent of children eligible for the federal school readiness program.

All of those facts only throw more fuel on the fire that drives retirees Nancy and WG Sayre to build a state-of-the-art early childhood learning center in Castine.

“There were 400-plus people at the summit,” said Nancy, a former elementary school teacher and college professor, “Because they realize how important it is.”

“Bankers and businessmen and economists were all saying ‘we have to do this,’” said WG, about investing in childcare.

Once built, the Sayres hope the Castine center will provide a space for children from Penobscot, Orland and Castine to learn, play and socialize with other children, promoting the healthy psychological growth espoused by speakers at the summit.

There are few licensed childcare centers in the area, so the planned one in Castine could fill a void at a time when both parents in many families work full-time jobs.

The Sayres and other volunteers named their project the Community Childhood Learning Place (CCLP). Since 2014, they have been forming plans and raising money to make their dream a reality.

Now, like a young sapling, the childcare center is finally starting to emerge from the ground.

The center is at the old windmill and reservoir site on State Street, where the solid concrete wall of the reservoir will help form the center’s foundation.

Over the past few months, contractors and volunteers knocked down some of that wall to level the ground at the site.

Next, they filled in the hole in the ground left by the former reservoir and installed the square, concrete-walled basement room where the building’s furnace and utilities will be kept.

The Sayres were hoping to have the center’s roof up by now, but delays in equipment delivery prevented that. Construction won’t start up again until the weather warms in late March or early April. But the delay hasn’t dampened the Sayres’ spirits.

“That’s just normal construction,” said WG, a retired chemistry professor. “It happens with every project like this.”

The progress made so far has been enough to catch the eye of local donors. CCLP received a $20,000 donation from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Castine, a $17,300 grant from the Davis Family Foundation, a $1,300 grant from the Bary Lyon Small Fund (part of the Maine Community Foundation) and a donation from the Roland Grindle Insurance Agency.

“People are hesitant to donate to something that they think won’t last,” WG said. “But now that we got to this level, there’s strong evidence we’re going to make it.”

In total, CCLP has raised $228,000, nearly 60 percent of its goal of $360,000.

“It would be nice if we had $400,000” said Nancy, “just simply because you’ve got to have a cushion.”

Money isn’t the only way to donate to CCLP. The Sayres said the project wouldn’t be where it is now without volunteer labor.

Students from Maine Maritime Academy’s service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, and the Academy’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps helped move piles of wood and clear off the reservoir walls so that a concrete floor can eventually be poured on top.

“The kids at Maine Maritime Academy have been magnificent,” said WG.

“It’s good to have young people involved in it,” added Nancy. “Plus they’re stronger than we are.”

Once the roof is up, people can contribute in less physically demanding ways, such as painting the rooms. To contribute or find out more information about CCLP, go online at communitychildhoodlearningplace.org, call 207-326-8881 or make a check out to Community Childhood Learning Place and sending it to PO Box 344 Castine, ME 04421.

“It’s really important that this happens,” Nancy said.

David Roza

David Roza

Former reporter, David Roza grew up in Washington County, Maryland, has reported in Washington County, Oregon, and covered news in Hancock County and Washington County, Maine for The American and Out & About.

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