Champlain College Helps YMCA Daycare After Church Fire

Champlain College's Ethan Allen Club building was transformed into a daycare center for infants and toddlers.

BURLINGTON, Vt. — After a fire encompassed the College Street Congregational Church in Burlington early morning on Wednesday Oct. 23, the neighboring Greater Burlington YMCA had to call 30 local families and break the news that they were out of childcare. Champlain College responded right away by restoring the former Ethan Allen Club building on College Street to act as an interim daycare center for the Y Early Childhood Programs.

"Our daycare center was in the basement of the Congregational Church," explained Jen Severance, director of Infant & Toddler programs in the Y Early Childhood Program. "The day of the fire we were even evacuated from the Y across the street because smoke was pouring in our building. We met with the state licenser at 10 that morning to discuss our options."

President and CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA Mary Burns was proactive about the tragedy early in the day, calling Champlain Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration David Provost before the sun came up. Provost called the College's Physical Plant Director Thomas Bonnette, and everyone convened at the Ethan Allen Club at 11 a.m. to offer up the building as the daycare's temporary home.

The Club, acquired by the College in 2008 and formerly used as an events and conference center for the College, had since been closed and used for storage. All involved knew of the urgency of this matter, and quickly determined that the space would work. Calls were made to the College community to help move furniture and other assets in storage to the basement, but Physical Plant cleared the space by mid-afternoon before volunteers could even get the chance to roll in.

"Wires were exposed, the sprinkler system was deactivated, there was no heat, and various tests needed to be done to pass inspection," recalled Bonnette of the disrepair the Club was in. "The fire marshal met with us to go over a checklist of things that needed to be done to meet codes for a childcare center. We were done by Friday, and the daycare resumed services on Monday."

Cal Workman, director of communications at the Greater Burlington YMCA, told reporters at WCAX on the morning of the fire, "What we've learned is there's extensive damage and it may be quite some time before we're able to get back in the church."

Reporter Amy Lilly of the Seven Days reported on Nov. 27, "All mechanical and electrical systems lining the basement ceiling will have to be replaced," due to heavy water damage.

It's funny to see toddler toys in such an beautiful traditional gentleman's club.Workman noted the community's compassion and that as Champlain helps the Greater Burlington YMCA, they will return the favor and are looking for ways to help the church. "I'm left with a sense of pride in our community; we're strong Vermonters, and we will come together around this and heal," she continued. "We'll move forward together."

The collaboration of the Greater Burlington YMCA, Champlain College, and city and state inspectors and officials made this quick turnover possible. "This shows that when an emergency occurs, things can happen," said Bonnette. "This building has been a blessing for them and they're pretty pleased with the space," he continued.

"In the basement of the church, the children never had floor to ceiling windows. It's the little things," said Kathi Apgar, director of the Y Early Childhood Program at Fletcher Allen. "The kids and caregivers love it here and have really made it work."

"It's so great for something so good to come out of something so tragic," said Severance. "We're still concerned about the old space in the basement of the church and what is salvageable," she continued.

According to Gary Vassar, the YMCA's human resources director, the daycare will remain in the Ethan Allen Club building until the church re-opens.

Future plans for the Ethan Allen Club property are to build additional student apartment-style housing, according to Karen Dusini and John Caulo of Campus Planning. Until then, the College is happy to house the YMCA's daycare.

Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit