What is believed to be the largest childcare facility ever built in Ireland is set to open in a town in East Cork this summer.
The 1,670 sq m premises, on a four-acre site in Carrigtwohill, will have a capacity for 350 children.
It is a major expansion of Mary Geary’s Childcare, originally opened in 2003 by Ms Geary and her husband, Oliver Sheehan. Prior to that, Mary ran a playschool in Carrigtwohill for 19 years.
The new facility will dwarf the 650 sq m centre the couple currently run.
It will also boast a large, open playing field, a playground, a woodland area, an astroturf pitch, and a courtyard, as well as providing each classroom with their own secure outdoor play area.
The outdoor area will also include bird boxes, bat boxes, bug hotels, and composting facilities, along with a sensory garden, a greenhouse, and herb gardens and will be home to hens as well as Frodo, a Shetland pony.
The couple has been planning the expansion for eight years.
They currently employ 60 staff, but will increase this to 80 when it opens.
Ms Geary said they will cater for babies from four months old right up to children of secondary school age, providing full day care and afterschool facilities, as well as drop-off and collection services to eight local primary schools.
“We’re proud to say that most children who have come through our doors as babies have stayed right until they went to secondary school,” said Ms Geary.
Having studied childcare at Cardiff University 33 years ago, she is now teaching children whose parents she has also taught down through the years.
“It’s truly wonderful to see past pupils of mine put their own children into our care here,” she said.
Mr Sheehan said the facility will have “a top-of-the-range commercial kitchen” where healthy, nutritious meals and snacks will be prepared each day, catering for all dietary requirements, by in-house cooks.
The centre’s staff have participated in Healthy Eating Ireland courses.
The facility is built to a AAA energy rating so is as energy-efficient as possible, using a heat recovery system which exchanges the air two to three times an hour.
Meanwhile, it has been reported that childcare costs generally could increase by up to 40% because of new regulations due to come into force in the autumn.
These state that childcare providers will have to ensure a ratio of one staff member per 12 children of school-going age.
The regulations will apply to operators participating in the Government’s new National Childcare Scheme.