JAX employees, representatives of the Down East Family YMCA, Governor Janet Mills and other state leaders, gathered at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine, today for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the Island of Imagination Early Learning Center.
“My administration, working closely with the legislature, has prioritized expanding the availability and affordability of child care across Maine because we recognize that child care prepares children for bright futures and allows parents to join and stay in the workforce, where they are desperately needed. The Island of Imagination Early Learning Center — made possible with a $250,000 investment from my Maine Jobs & Recovery Plan — will help JAX and area businesses recruit and retain the workforce they need to succeed,” said Gov. Mills. “My administration will continue to work with innovative businesses and organizations like JAX to deliver high-quality early childhood education and care to Maine children and families.”
The child care center, which is located on the Laboratory’s Bar Harbor campus, will be operated by the Ellsworth-based Down East Family YMCA (DEFY) and will serve both JAX employees and members of the community. Currently there are more than 20 children enrolled, and the center will grow to accommodate up to 50 at full capacity.
“'Island of Imagination' is a fitting name for a center located at JAX, where groundbreaking discoveries and innovative solutions have been powered by imaginative thinking,” said Lon Cardon, Ph.D., FMedSci, JAX president and CEO. “I’d like to think that this unique setting will inspire the next generation of innovators, scientists, engineers and health care providers, and connect them, from their very first steps in education, to the excitement of discovery.”
S. Catherine “Katy” Longley, J.D., JAX executive vice president and COO, spearheaded the project on behalf of the Laboratory.
“This project has been underway since 2018. We saw a need and were fortunate to design and see this new center through to fruition, partnering with DEFY,” Longley said. “Child care resources on MDI are very limited and we view this project as an investment in our employees and their families today and a critical recruitment and retention tool. This center will provide quality child care for families at JAX and in our community for many years to come.”
Matt Montgomery, CEO, Down East Family YMCA, spoke to event attendees about the program and introduced Courtney Wood, director of Childcare Services, and Andrea Howell, site director of Island of Imagination.
“YMCAs are one of the largest providers of child care across the nation and youth development is at the core of our mission. We know better than almost anyone that child care is more than a convenience for most families. Safe, high-quality, and education-based child care are all critical factors that help parents return to work, ensure social and emotional development, and lead to better outcomes in learning and child development,” Montgomery said.
JAX broke ground on the 6,800 square-foot center in October 2022 and started construction in early 2023. The center is specifically designed for the care and safety of young children, and has three primary classrooms: one for infants, one for toddlers and another for pre-school aged children, along with large indoor and outdoor playgrounds, a kitchen, staff offices, and a dedicated room for one-to-one support services such as speech therapy. The setting and proximity of the center to Acadia National Park will provide children and staff abundant access and exposure to the natural world.
The $4.5 million center was supported by a $250,000 grant from the Maine Child Care Infrastructure Grant Program, part of a $15 million state investment into the construction or expansion of workforce child care programs. Island of Imagination was designed and built by an all-Maine team including TAC Architectural Group (Bangor), Bowman Constructors (Newport), Woodard and Curran (Portland) and Cordjia Capital Projects Group (Camden).
The opening of Island of Imagination will make a meaningful impact on the availability of child care on Mount Desert Island. At full capacity, the center will increase the number of licensed child care spots by more than 30%, from 162 to 212. The center comes just five years after the opening of the Beechland Road Early Learning Center in Ellsworth, in a building renovated by JAX and also operated by the Down East Family YMCA.