Christian preschool closes

MERRIMACK – Dwindling attendance and a long-running deficit have led Our Lady of Mercy Church to close its preschool.

A.C.T. Preschool’s last day of the school year, May 15, ended up being the last day in its 18-year history.

The school has run in a deficit four straight years, and would have done so again next school year, said the Rev. Georges de Laire, pastor of Our Lady of Mercy.

“The product we were offering didn’t have a market,” de Laire said. “The product hasn’t met the needs of the community and hasn’t done so for successive years.”

That product was sculpting a foundation in reading and writing skills and social awareness mixed with religious values. The closure of A.C.T. means, by many accounts, that Merrimack no longer has a Christian preschool.

The center’s applied Catholic teaching introduced preschool children to “the reality of the existence of God” and engaged them “in a relationship with God through prayer,” de Laire said.

But A.C.T. had only seven children enrolled for next year, and the majority would have attended either two or three days a week, de Laire said. The preschool also offered a 5-day program. The program would have had a 49-percent fiscal deficit, he said.

This past school year, 15 children attended and the program had a 25-percent fiscal deficit, de Laire said. The previous two years also produced deficits with classes below capacity, he said.

It was decided that closure was the only viable option, de Laire said.

“It’s not just the fiscal thing,” de Laire said. “It is very difficult to run with a paid staff that requires a (larger) enrollment and it get less than half of that.

“The kids aren’t there; income is not coming in.

“Any program suffers when participation is reduced to a bare minimum. The quality of what one receives as a student, when a program performs under par, is obviously nothing that anybody wants.”

A.C.T. opened in 1977 as a kindergarten, and was fiscally independent of the Baboosic Lake Road parish, de Laire said.

Preschool opened in 1991, but the kindergarten closed when the town public system started offering that program, he said.

The preschool had a clean record with the state, according to a review of recent child-care licensing documents.

At least one parent said the closure of A.C.T. would be a loss to the community.

Resident Danielle Wells sent her three daughters there, and said she appreciated not just the teaching of Christian values but also the “strong introduction” to academics.

“I just loved it there, and the teachers were top notch,” she said.