SOMERSETPa. – Packed into a former gym, The Learning Lamp’s Somerset County daycare shares space with saunas, showers and former racquetball courts – but not enough classrooms, said Leah Spangler, CEO of the non-profit organization.
That should change this summer.
Learning Lamp executives joined state Department of Community and Economic Development officials on Tuesday to inaugurate a renovation and expansion that will add six new classrooms and two indoor playrooms — doubling the center’s capacity, from 60 children to 134, Spangler said.
Given the widespread shortage of state-approved child care spaces in Somerset County, expansion is crucial, she said.
“This work is the foundation on which our community is built,” Spangler said, noting that the expansion will allow the nonprofit to prepare more children for elementary school – a step that dramatically improves their chances. to succeed as they grow.
Until recently, the Learning Lamp leased part of the building on Aberdeen Drive.
The roughly $2 million project has been in the works for years and was made possible, in part, by $67,500 in Neighborhood Assistance Program tax credits generated by private sector investments.
Early education advocates recently named Somerset County one of six “childcare deserts” in Pennsylvania, noted Josh Yoder, chairman of The Learning Lamp’s board of directors, saying the need for service far exceeds the space available to enroll children.
Acting DCED Secretary Neil Weaver said about 1,200 children in the county lacked quality care — a trend first identified in 2019 that has continued to grow during the COVID-19 pandemic that is driving away labor market parents.
“Imagine 1,400 parents re-entering the workforce,” Weaver said, referring to the current labor shortage that mirrors the child care trend.
“It’s really an economic development issue.
While studies indicate that a growing number of parents in Somerset County have been forced out of the workforce because there are not enough centers to accommodate their children, The Learning Lamp’s expansion will not would not only double the capacity of the center, but also create 27 new jobs to meet the early educational needs of toddlers and kindergarteners, Weaver said.
Regina Coughenour praised The Learning Lamp’s venture on Tuesday.
As a parent in the Somerset area and as a director of Somerset Inc., Somerset town center’s business promotion and economic development group, Coughenour said she understood both the value of high quality, educationally focused child care and the challenges families face without it.
“For our generation, most families have to rely on two working parents,” she said. “Without quality and affordable child care, it’s not easy.
Learning Lamp officials described their expansion as part of the solution on Tuesday.
In late March, Somerset County childcare providers met with the Somerset County Chamber of Commerce to begin discussing new ways to add childcare opportunities, particularly in areas where there are no nearby options.
Ideas being explored by county stakeholders include developing child care spaces inside existing commercial spaces that could be available for employees’ children.
The state’s Special Priorities Program was touted as another option to address the problem through the same tax incentive program that supported The Learning Lamp’s expansion.
AmeriServ Financial, 1st Summit Bank, Somerset Trust Co. and UPMC Somerset all invested funds in the project in return for state tax credits, officials said.