While the pandemic has hurt the Island's child care industry, causing many day care centers to close for good, a Levittown day care facility is expanding.
Harmony Early Learning Center opened a second LI location in Wantagh on Thursday. Construction on the $4 million building, which was in the works before the COVID-19 crisis, "continued throughout the pandemic but with some tweaks," Allison Ulin, co-owner of Harmony, said.
"We added more sinks and hand sanitizing stations, and made sure the reception and parent pick-up and drop-off areas were spacious enough so we could adhere to the CDC's guidelines for social distancing," she said.
Other features of the two-story, 12,900-square-foot facility, include heating, ventilation and air conditioning filtration systems, underfloor heating, a stroller and car seat storage room, and vision panels between hallways and classrooms. The facility was built by Manhattan-based McAlpine Contracting with a regional office in Bay Shore.
The center, which also features a large outdoor playground, has eight classrooms, including two infant rooms and two toddler rooms on the first floor, and four preschool classrooms on the second floor. Each classroom has a small kitchenette with a sink and refrigerator, and a bathroom for the children. It is equipped to accommodate 115 children.
Rates range from about $650 to $1,400 a month, based on the program, number of days, and the child's age, Ulin said, adding that the school "currently accepts only private pay students" though she hopes to "offer subsidies in the future."
The opening of a new day care center on Long Island is always welcome news, Jennifer Marino Rojas, executive director of the Child Care Council of Suffolk Inc., said.
"The need for quality, affordable child care on Long Island remains high," she said.
"But there are still many [child care] programs operating at a lower capacity than they were pre-pandemic because parents, who are working from home, either don't need full-time care anymore and are sending their kids to day care for less hours or are still not comfortable sending them to day care at all."
The combination of these two factors has resulted "in a definite revenue loss" for day care operators and because of it many are still facing financial challenges, Marino Rojas said.
In February 2021, there were 768 licensed child care providers in Suffolk County and 981 licensed child care providers in Nassau, compared with 788 and 1,000 respectively, a year prior, according to Child Care Council of Suffolk data. The decrease in providers is a clear indicator of the pandemic's impact on the child care industry, Marino Rojas said.
Ulin said her day care center did not make it through 2020 entirely unscathed either.
"We closed during the height of the pandemic for two months, in April and May," she said.
"At that time, parents were preferring to care for their children at home... by June, when they became more comfortable with the safety protocols we put in place, we reopened."
Harmony's Levittown location quickly developed a waitlist, Ulin said.
"Sadly, a lot of day cares closed during the earlier months of the pandemic and many were not able to reopen," she said.
"We started getting inquiries from new families who expressed interest in enrolling their children at our school, many of them said it was because their day cares had closed or had limited availability ... we're just happy to be able to accommodate them now at our new location."
The new Harmony Early Learning Center is located at 635 Wantagh Ave. in Wantagh.