BRIDGEWATER – There was a time when the attempt to save the former Bridgewater Village School building and the attempt to build a new town fire station were in conflict.
Initially, Bridgewater voters at a Special Town Meeting in 2016 decided to at least partially destroy the former school to make way for the new fire station. But the community overcame that initial friction and in 2018, the newly formed nonprofit Bridgewater Area Community Foundation entered into an agreement with the Selectboard to lease the former school building, first built in 1914, for a dollar a year. .
Now the building has been given new life and the fire station has opened its doors.
The Bridgewater Community Child Care Center, housed in the newest part of the former school, began welcoming its first eight children in mid-June. Next summer, other parts of the building are expected to open as another classroom for the child care center and as a community center planned to host town meetings and other activities.
And later this month, the Bridgewater Volunteer Fire Department is holding an open house and touring its new fire and rescue building, located next to the community center on Southgate Loop along Route 4 in the center of town. The town offices are also next door.
Together, the new and renovated buildings are helping to form a “new heart for the village,” said Charles Shackleton, a member of the community foundation’s council. Shackleton is co-owner of ShackletonThomas, a furniture maker in an old mill building located across Route 4 of the community center and fire station.
“Bridgewater, we feel, is undergoing a bit of a revival,” Shackleton said. “Between the community center and the fire station, it brought a lot of the community together.”
To get to that point, the foundation spent about half of the $ 1.5 million it raised on renovations, Shackleton said.
But money is only part of the effort put into getting the child care center up and running. The group intended to open it in early 2020, but faced numerous challenges along the way. The project lost a key lawyer when Bridgewater resident Hank Smith died in 2020. It took the founding board a while to find a director for the center. Admission was a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the childcare industry, which has long struggled to match what families can pay with what staff have to earn, has been hit hard by the pandemic.
Brenda Metzler, a Bridgewater resident and community and program support specialist at the state-wide nonprofit advocacy organization Let’s Grow Kids, is one of those celebrating the center’s opening.
When she heard that the center had received its license, she said: “I started crying. I felt like I had given birth to a child. ”
Metzler has been advising the council for about four years on issues such as fire safety, permit and license issues, and ways to tailor the Bridgewater child care program to community needs. Before the center opened, there were no licensed places for babies or toddlers in the town, Metzler said. In the surrounding towns, there were less than a dozen when Metzler began helping found the foundation.
“I, as a member of this town, voted to demolish this building; now I commit myself to helping you save it, ”she said she told the founding council when she joined the effort. As an early childhood education program, “I’m 100% behind it. I support you.”
“One of my roles was bridge building,” Metzler said.
“We do not have to fight about it. We all need both, ”she said of the child care center and fire station.
Devyn Workman, from Hartland, is also one of those celebrating the new child care center.
“I’m very excited about the center,” he said. It is “the first place to finally have a place for my daughter. We are everywhere on waiting lists… up to 45 minutes away. ”
Workman’s 13-month-old daughter, Quilla, is one of the first children to attend the center. Workman said he and his wife, Nora, first started looking for child care for Quilla when Nora, a midwife at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, was eight weeks pregnant.
For about a year without formal child care, it was a hustle and bustle.
“We put it together,” says Workman, a special educator at the Windsor Central Supervisory Union.
His mother and mother-in-law both helped, and Nora worked weekends to have off weekdays.
But having full-time childcare over the past few weeks “was a big big shift,” he said.
Workman noted that even if the Bridgewater Center was not the first to offer the family a place, they would still be happy with it. In fact, shortly after being offered the Bridgewater location, they received a call from another center and paid a visit. They chose Bridgewater.
“The first and most important was, holy cow, someone has a place for us,” Workman said. “Luckily it was actually very lovely.”
Shackleton’s grandson, James, who turns 2 in August, is also one of the first children to attend the new child care center. James’ parents are furniture makers who work in the old mill building.
“He’s very happy,” Shackleton said. “Everyone does a good job.”
The center is currently licensed for 14 children, ages 6 weeks to 36 months, said Kristiana Birmingham, the center’s program director. It is open from 08:00 to 16:30. The cost to families is $ 65 per day, but government subsidies and scholarships are available to those who qualify. By next summer, the facility will include a second classroom and can serve a total of 36 children.
The “soft opening” for the eight children enables Birmingham and two employees to care for some children while continuing to look for more employees. The center has a waiting list of about 30 families, she said.
Birmingham, who previously ran the after-school program for the Windsor Central Supervisory Union, joined the Bridgewater Child Care Center last October.
Getting to this point “was definitely an uphill battle,” said Birmingham, a 29-year-old who grew up in Woodstock and went to university before returning to the area.
State-level staff shortages have delayed the licensing process, she said.
Councilors voluntarily gave up their time to build the classroom and playground by installing fences and kitchens, she said.
“They did everything,” she said.
Obstacles remain, including the addition of more employees, Birmingham said.
“The staff shortage currently in this field makes it a little appalling,” she said. “As a director, my top priority is safety.”
To reassure parents, the center uses an online application to communicate details with parents about their child’s day, such as timing and number of diaper changes, what they ate, and the length of their naps. Birmingham also had an open-door policy for parents, inviting them to join the children for lunch, for example.
By doing so, “it helps build this small community,” Birmingham said.
Workman seemed to agree. Although Quilla sometimes cried as she adjusted to the separation from her family caregivers, he said the social aspect of the center was good for her and for him.
After dropping off Quilla, Workman said he “got stuck in the parking lot”.
The Workmans are “expanding our community,” which he said he hopes could lead to “some future play dates”.
Meanwhile, the nearby Bridgewater volunteer fire department is celebrating its own expansion.
“It means a lot,” said Bruce Maxham, the department’s assistant chief, about the opening of the new station, which was funded primarily by a $ 1.8 million township bond. “I think some of us have been working on this for about five years now.”
The new 7,000-square-foot station sits across from Route 4 of the old one, which was first built in the 1950s. The old station, which had cracks in the zinc block walls, was too small for modern equipment, Maxham said. When the department last bought a new truck, he had to find one that fit the space, not necessarily the department’s needs, he said.
In addition to more space for equipment, the new station also has a small break room, as well as a bathroom and showers, and a refrigerator. It has space for firefighters to store their equipment, instead of carrying it around in their individual cars, as well as a special washer and dryer to clean the equipment in case it becomes contaminated during a call. At the old station, they used an ordinary washing machine and laid out the equipment to dry in a meeting room.
“We do not have much extra space, but we have enough space,” Maxham said of the new station. “It’s more user – friendly.”
One of Maxham’s hopes is that the new building will attract new members to the department’s current roster of about 20.
“We are always looking for new members,” he said.
Maxham admitted that “originally not everyone was on the same page with where we should go” with the former school building and fire station, but “for the most part, everyone accepted the situation”. And, he said, they “hope both organizations succeed.”
The fire department has invited community members to an open house at its new building, located at Southgate Loop 28, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. this Saturday. A tour of the facility, as well as burgers and hot dogs, will be provided.
Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3213.