School’s rebirth: Bristol Preschool Child Care Center opens at old elementary school


BRISTOL — The old Jennings Elementary School has come back to life with the opening of the new Bristol Preschool Child Care Center facility there.

Shirley Anderson, executive director, said the organization searched for more than 10 years for the right location to provide subsidized, affordable infant-toddler care for the community.


Jennings closed in 2012, as part of a school district project that closed a number of old schools and opened two large, new ones. The city sold Jennings, which was built in the 1920s, to D’Amato Construction for $100,000 in 2013.


D’Amato is in the process of converting the upper floors into senior apartments and leased the ground floor to the preschool.

There are few child care options available in the northern end of town, Anderson said. “That’s one of the reasons we chose this area. A lot of the child care facilities are downtown.”


Marilyn Lobaczewski, the preschool’s grants manager, said the neighbors who attended the zoning meetings were happy the old school at 291 Burlington Ave. would not be torn down or sit boarded up for years, like the old Bingham and O’Connell schools.

“We got such a great response from neighbors that there would be children back at the school,” she said.


“There are lots of vacant schools,” Anderson said. “We all know it’s very expensive to renovate them, it’s probably a lot cheaper to knock them down. This is such a beautiful property and a good location. We said ‘let’s look to see what we could do here.’”

“We decided we’ve got to get kids out of basements, because a lot of child care facilities are in basements and I think children deserve more than that,” she said. “I’m a grandmother and I said I want a place that I would bring my granddaughter to — homey, welcoming, with a well trained staff.”


The nonprofit preschool is accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

The new location opened Sept. 12, with the entrance to its parking lot on Cypress Street.


The whole ground floor of the building, 17,000-square-feet, was completely gutted and redone for the little ones. The bulk of the funding behind the renovation came from a $3.25 million from the state Bond Commission awarded in 2015.


“This is the first time we’ve ever had the opportunity to work with infants and toddlers. We’ve always done preschool. This opportunity came along because of the state bonding,” said Renee Dailey, the preschool’s program manager.


Additional funding has come from other sources, including Farmington Savings Bank, Thomaston Savings Bank, and the Barnes Group Foundation. Lobaczewski said they are still seeking funding.


The new facility has its own commercial kitchen, where meals and snacks are prepared; the old school gym totally remade, with a new floor with the preschool logo painted in the center and an elevator for handicapped accessibility; room for infants from age 12 weeks up, as well as rooms for other age groups; and a breast feeding room.


There is even a room just for car seats. Parents can drop off a car seat with a child if another parent or adult is picking up the child in the afternoon.


The preschool has had many locations over the years.


Lobaczewski, who is the former executive director, has been with the preschool since day one, which was Dec. 8, 1970. She recalled how former Mayor Stretch Norton got them state funding for subsidized child care, and they opened their first facility for 30 preschoolers at the Asbury Methodist Church in Forestville.


Now, with the addition of the Jennings facility, it currently has two locations serving a total of about 200 children from Bristol and surrounding communities, with a staff of almost 50. The other location is at 339 West St., which has been in operation for 20 years and only serves ages three to five.


Anderson said their services are subsidized by grants from the State Office of Early Childhood and the United Way of West Central Connecticut. Parents must meet certain income levels per family size.


“That’s what makes it affordable. If you look at the cost of infant and toddler care it’s $275 a week, and people living in our community can’t afford that,” Anderson said.


Lobaczewski said the staff is well trained, all with bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education, and some with master’s degrees.


Anderson said many of the new staff came on board in August. “We put together a very intensified infant and toddler training program for them before they even walked in the door,” she said.


“We always felt we were addressing a need in the community, but we had call after call after call before we were even open,” Anderson said.


“For the infants and toddlers we had all 40 slots filled by March, and we didn’t even open until September,” Dailey said. “Parents signed up sight unseen.”


“So what does that say about our reputation?” Lobaczewski said. “People knew who we were, that we do things right. There was a real trust factor.”


With the spacious new location now open, they hope to have some new programs in the future, such as a summer program for older siblings of children in the preschool program, parenting workshops, and even a program encouraging interaction with the youngsters and the seniors expected to move in upstairs.


They plan to have an invitation-only open house on Wednesday, Nov. 16, with Gov. Dannel Malloy expected to attend, along with state and local legislators, local community leaders including from the United Way and the School Readiness Council.


“If it wasn’t for the governor and the bonding commission we would not have been able to make this a reality,” Anderson said. “They need to see what we’ve done with this space.”