Expanding daycare center signals critical need in Kennebunk
Courtesy / Rachel Chaisson
By Laurie Schreiber
Work is underway on the renovation of 34 York St. in Kennebunk, purchased by A Joyful Noise Preschool & Childcare Center in order to accommodate growing need for its services.
The expansion of a daycare center in Kennebunk signals a vital need in an industry that often goes unsung.
Rachel Chaisson SRC Holdings LLC bought 34 York St. from KNZ Investments LLC for $324,000.
Suzanne McKechnie of Investcomm Commercial Group represented the buyer and Heidi Maynard of Pack Maynard & Associates represented the seller in the transaction, which closed Nov. 1.
Chaisson is the owner of A Joyful Noise Preschool & Childcare, which operates in a space leased from a church at 142 Sea Road in Kennebunk.
The nonprofit school’s move will provide space for expansion and allow for continued employment of 12 local employees, said Chaisson.
“Childcare is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle for families planning for a new little one while still balancing work and all that life throws at them,” she said. “There is a growing number of families that need both parents to work in order to make ends meet.”
Originally from western Massachusetts, she moved to Maine 25 years ago. In 2010, she started working as a preschool teacher at A Joyful Noise, at the time a ministry of Sea Road Christian Church in Kennebunk.
Eventually she became director while earning degrees in early education and elementary school education. In 2015, she was offered the chance to buy the program and continue to lease space on the church campus.
During that time, “We grew from being a tiny preschool with 10 to 12 students to, in a matter of three to six months, having 40 students and a wait list that went out a year or more in every program,” she said. “We went from having only 4-year-olds to having infants and toddlers.”
About three years ago, Chaisson started looking for a new space, in a relaxed way, knowing that she wanted to grow the program.
Last year, it became clear that she would have push forward on the search when the church began planning renovations to its campus.
Finding property for a childcare business is complicated, she explained.
“We have the most precious cargo ever,” she said. “So the standards of the environment are very high.”
The includes a sprinkled building, parking, playground, daylight in every room, an alarm system hooked up to the fire department, and a septic and water system independent of municipal utilities.
She and McKechnie first looked for property to lease.
Rachel Chaisson, owner/director of A Joyful Noise Preschool & Childcare Center in Kennebunk, is getting ready to open in larger quarters by Jan. 1.
“Finding someone willing to lease to a child care center was s challenge,” she said. “Kids put a lot of wear and tear on a property.”
Switching gears, they began looking into buying or building a facility.
“I wanted to stay in Kennebunk,” she said. “There aren’t many options that fit all of the pieces on the checklist. When we did find something that fit most of the pieces, it was incredibly expensive. So it took a long time.”
The two viewed about 30 properties in Kennebunk and neighboring towns, and even negotiated with several different sellers.
“We fell on our face several times,” she said. “But we learned with every single time.”
About two miles from the existing center, they viewed 34 York St.
Chaisson decided it could work.
But there were still a number of hurdles to clear, such as testing for environmental safety and bringing in agencies likes the Department of Health and Human Services and the state Fire Marshall to review the premises.
“It’s very hard to open a childcare center. And it should be,” she said. “We need to have strong policies and strong regulations. But it’s very difficult and very expensive.”
The 2,400-square-foot, two-story building is larger than the center’s former 1,500-square-foot space and will accommodate about 10 additional pre-kindergarten students in the age 3-5 range. All together, the new space will accommodate 49 children.
Renovations are underway on the building, which once housed a restaurant, among its uses.
“I need to get the commercial kitchen out, take out a couple of walls and open up the space,” she said.
Interior work also includes a new electrical system, appliances, tamper-proof outlets, flooring, paint and window dressing. Redevelopment of the backyard into a play area is in the works. Furnishings will mainly come from the existing space.
Interior renovations will be done by Leo Richardson from Richardson Services. Kyle Roberts from Billy Goat Landscaping is handling the playground and Jon Stevens from Black Bear Property Services is doing the privacy fence and exterior renovations.
Renovations are expected to be about $100,000. Chaisson aims to have the new space operational by Jan. 1.
She credits McKechnie for her persistence in helping her find the right spot. And she credits Wayne Morphew, Bob Fiore and Beth Taylor at People’s United Bank and Paul Collins with the U.S. Small Business Administration for their help in navigating the financing and regulatory process.
The expansion of A Joyful Noise reflects a growing need for day care, she said.
“Years ago, when I first started working at the preschool, most of our students were from families with a stay-at-home parent,” she said.
At the time, she said, A Joyful Noise was open just a few hours a day, a few days a week.
More often these days, she said, families are headed by two working parents or a single parent. Several years ago, Chaisson began expanding the program accordingly, to five days a week, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., year-round and care for infants and toddlers.
“Within a few months, we went to a full house of children and a full wait list,” she described. “Childcare is a crisis not just in Kennebunk but, as far as I know, in the entire country.”