JOHNSTOWN, Pa. (WTAJ) — The Learning Lamp (TLL) received the $500,000 grant to support Child Care Works for Somerset, a major expansion of child care services in Somerset County.

“Child care is a critical part of a healthy community, parents can’t be part of the workforce without it,” Susan Mann, president of 1889 Foundation, said. “Further, research shows that 80% of a child’s brain development occurs between birth and age 3, so the quality of child care is vitally important. This project will significantly increase the availability of quality child care in an underserved, rural area.”

President of TLL Dr. Leah Spangler added that the 1889 Foundation’s support for Child Care Works for Somerset validates the importance of child care in ensuring Somerset County has the workforce it needs to advance the region’s economy and prepare the next generation to build a strong community.

It’s reported the Child Care Works project will more than double the capacity of TLL’s child care center in Somerset to 134 slots, creating openings for 27 new staff members.

The building, which used to be a health club located at 451 Aberdeen Drive, was leased by TLL in 2015 and purchased in 2020. The three-phased renovation will repurpose racquetball courts and lockerroom into new classrooms, child-sized restrooms and space for gross motor activities, TLL said.

Existing classrooms will be devised into separate, sound-proof learning areas to improve children’s ability to concentrate and fully engage in activities. Sinks will also be added to each classroom along with a centralized kitchen and laundry room.

TLL said it had raised nearly half of the $2.1 million needed to complete the entire project before receiving the $500,000 grant. They expect the first phase of construction to begin this spring, noting that the center will remain open throughout the renovation.

According to the PA Partnerships for Children’s 2021 “Child Care Works in PA” report, there were 2,650 children under five that required care in Somerset County. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 27 child care providers operating in Somerset County with the capacity to serve 1,341 children. Pandemic-related shutdowns of child care centers have resulted in the permanent closing of four child care providers and the loss of 70 slots.

“Even before the pandemic, there have historically been more children who are eligible for free preschool and PA Pre-K Counts each year than there are slots available,” Spangler said. “That means families who can’t afford to send their children to preschool may be left with no other options. We are excited to be moving forward with this project to address that.”

For more information about the Child Care Works for Somerset project or to contribute, head to the TLL’s website under the “Child care Works for Somerset” page.

Get the latest local news, weather, and community events. Sign up for the WTAJ Newsletter.