NMCC creating housing and child care to bolster workforce

2 weeks ago

Northern Maine Community College in Presque Isle is banking on dormitory renovations to help it meet the changing needs of Maine workers.

Construction is ongoing on a child-care center in Penobscot Hall. Now, with $500,000 in federal funds, the college will refurbish the 50-room Andrews Hall to expand housing for students involved in short-term work training. 

Students bound for the job market may not need to live on campus for a whole year or semester. What’s more, some students have children and face severe child-care shortages in Aroostook County. The traditional year-round college experience is changing, NMCC President Timothy Crowley said. The renovations aim to help move people into jobs faster and also care for their families.

“We’re seeing more people who want short-term training, so part of our workforce response is to say we can do this here,” Crowley said. “We think it will help our students who are in our programs and also our students who have kids.”

The pandemic sparked a boom in remote learning that’s still continuing, he said. Many students study online and only need to come to campus for a few sessions. Others are involved in fast-track employment programs, like commercial truck driving, and need accommodations only for the weeks of their training.  

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — June 5, 2024 — Northern Maine Community College President Timothy Crowley (left) and Christine Grillo, interim director of marketing and communication, talk about planned renovations on the Presque Isle college campus on June 5. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

In addition, the University of New England in Biddeford has numerous medical students who come to northern Maine to complete internships at local hospitals, Crowley said. They, too, seek short-term living arrangements.

The $500,000 award for Andrews Hall is part of $1.46 million the campus received this year in congressionally directed spending grants. It also netted $550,000 to upgrade technology around the campus and $410,000 to expand its diesel hydraulics program.

Offering short-term housing will contribute to developing crucially needed skilled workers by supporting their education, campus officials said in March

There’s another aspect of student life that’s changing, Crowley said. Demand for single rooms is rising as more students prefer to live alone than with a roommate. With that in mind, Andrews Hall will still have some traditional double-occupancy rooms, but will include more rooms geared to singles.  

The project will refurbish the entrances and outfit the facility with better security and technology.

“The structure of the building in terms of the layout of the rooms and so on will not change,” Crowley said. “What will change is the infrastructure for the building, which is the door systems, the locking systems and the infrastructure for access to the internet.”

The door lock security will enable the campus to turn rooms over faster, which is crucial as the demand for short-term training grows, he said. 

The college will spend all of the $500,000 on the project, which will soon go out to bid.

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — June 5, 2024 — Andrews Hall is seen at Presque Isle’s Northern Maine Community College on June 5. The 50-room dormitory will be renovated to offer short-tern student housing. (Paula Brewer | The Star-Herald)

Construction started in December on the child-care center. It’s a project Christine Grillo, NMCC’s interim director of marketing and communications, can’t wait to see.

“I had to step out of the workforce when my children were young because of the lack of childcare in the area,” Grillo said. “That would have been life-changing for me here.”

When Miss Jordyn’s Child Development Center of Caribou closed, parents wondered if they’d have to quit their jobs to take care of their children.

The lack of child care causes a domino effect that filters from the family through the business community. Employers are losing skilled workers, typically women, that could benefit if child-care solutions were offered to them, Grillo said.

The Penobscot hall upgrade will create the child-care center upstairs, with classroom and conference rooms downstairs. Builders are incorporating state and federal requirements for child-care centers, Crowley said. The college will maintain the building itself and will hire a child care provider.

For Grillo, it’s all about the college trying to help people connect, and stay connected, to jobs.

“The two major things that we are seeing right now all over the state are child care and housing,” she said. “And I think the college is really trying to meet those needs for not only students, but the community.”