LEWISTON – A group that helps preschool children, including dozens with special needs, has been given a $1.9 million federal loan to build a new building at 80 Strawberry Ave.

This summer, work may begin on the new 15,000-square-foot Sandcastle Preschool.

“This brings us together under one roof,” said Stephanie Gelinas, Sandcastle’s program director.

For 13 years, the private, nonprofit agency has been operating in two Lewiston locations: at 144 Howe St. and at 918 Sabattus St.

“This will be the first place designed to our needs,” Gelinas said. Neither building had been used as a school before Sandcastle operated there. The Howe Street building was a former paint store that was revamped with classrooms.

Today, both buildings are too small.

“We’ve outgrown this space,” Gelinas said. “We can’t expand anymore.”

The agency started in 1996 with two staffers and 12 children. Today, it helps about 265 families and has a staff of 40 part- and full-time workers, Gelinas said.

The agency works with kids from birth to 5 years old. And though many have typical skills, others need a variety of therapy: speech, occupational and physical. Some children also receive mental health services.

The goal of the preschool is to help the children enter everyday classrooms in school.

“That’s what we’re all about,” Gelinas said.

The preschool’s mission was cited by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins in their announcement of the loan, which will come from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program.

“Sandcastle Preschool Program Foundation provides outstanding services to special needs children in the Lewiston area,” the senators said in a joint statement. “These USDA Rural Development funds will help the organization manage an increased workload and expand their services to more families.”

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