Children’s Center plans new location

By Richard Fahlander - Correspondent

If you are a Concord renter and your landlord doesn’t renew your lease, you’re going to scramble to find a new place in a tight and expensive real estate market. This is especially true if your home is a childcare center serving 48 children. That was the dilemma the Concord Children’s Center faced in 2019 when notified by the School Department that the center would have to vacate its space at the Ripley building on Meriam Road.

Executive director Pat Nelson immediately began to search for an alternative location. She explored over 20 options including talking to farmers, leasing land from the town, and moving to an office park. The need for a sewer connection was a significant limiting factor in a town with mostly septic systems. The one location they wouldn’t consider was moving out of Concord. “Concord needs and wants us,” said Nelson of the non-profit center founded in 1975. “We are part of the fabric of the community and leaving would be like tearing off a piece of a quilt.”

After months of exploration Nelson discovered a solution right down the road – an 1890 farmhouse at 250 Old Bedford Road. The property at the corner of Virginia Road was purchased by the Children’s Center in 2020. The pandemic delayed construction until the fall of 2022 and the project is now on track for an August 2023 opening.

 The new center hosts six classrooms housed in a two-story barn-like structure. A connector to the original house includes an elevator that services both buildings. The second and third floors of the farmhouse will be used as office and workspace for teachers and the first floor for afterschool programs. Included in the project is an outdoor playground and wetlands restoration. Total acquisition and construction cost is $7.3 million. Through accumulated reserves, operating income, and fundraising the center has contributed over $3 million toward the project with the rest being financed by Middlesex Savings Bank.

 Zoning regulations permit educational institutions to locate in residential districts via the site plan review process. The Children’s Center engaged a variety of design and engineering consultants to address environmental and traffic impacts of the project. At a series of Planning Board public hearings, neighbors expressed concerns about a lack of parking and increased congestion at an already busy intersection. They also worried that the mass of the new addition would detract from the agrarian viewscape of the house and adjoining field. At the same time, former and current Children’s Center families expressed the need for quality childcare in Concord, especially when provided by a non-profit community based organization.

 The Planning Board ultimately granted site plan approval in August 2021 with numerous stipulations regarding traffic management, drainage, and lighting, among others. Pat Nelson hopes to work with the town to improve crosswalks at Virginia and Old Bedford roads as she expects children will go on walking field trips to the Ripley Playscape, a community resource that has been partially funded and maintained by the Children’s Center.

In addition to the Ripley site, the Children’s Center has a long-term lease with the Town in West Concord adjacent to the Harvey Wheeler building and rents a small house from Emerson Hospital, which will close when the new East Concord site opens. The Harvey Wheeler site will undergo renovations to accommodate some children from the Emerson house. In the early 2000s a strategic plan concluded that the Children’s Center should move toward a two-site ownership model – one on the west of town and one on the east. Consequently, prior to purchasing 250 Old Bedford the programmatic groundwork had been laid for consolidation. The newly reimagined two-site Children’s Center will enroll 156 children daily – comparable to current enrollment.

Once the dust settles and the move is made, Nelson and the entire Children’s Center community are looking forward to serving Concord families for years to come.

“We keep in touch with kids through high school and college,” she said. “Several of our teachers are graduates and right now we have a dozen children whose parents attended.” With the opening of the new center, Nelson expects this tradition of family connection will continue into the next generation and beyond.