News Gazette staff
Although a Langford mother who paid a substantial deposit for daycare is relieved she will be getting her money back, the situation created a lot of stress and frustration for many months.
“Trying to find infant care in Victoria is really a struggle,” said Sarah Hamill, who needed to find a space for the 20-month-old son, Maxton. “We were on multiple wait lists as we needed to secure daycare for September. We were so excited when we found out we were able to get a spot at the Willowbrae in Langford. Unfortunately, this excitement turned into devastation and frustration. I feel for all the parents going through this horrible situation. Finding daycare space in Victoria is an enormous challenge.”
Hamill first inquired about space at the proposed Willowbrae Childcare centre in Langford after she saw information on Facebook in February. Following some initial email correspondence, Hamill was told in April that there were some delays in getting permits and final licensing in order, but that was expected to be completed in June.
At the end of April, Hamill was put in touch with the director listed on the website at that time, Mary Helen Amlin, who would arrange for a tour of the space and handle registration. An email on May 23 said the daycare was undergoing renovations at the property at #105-2780 Veterans Memorial Pkwy., and the plan was to take possession in June, pending completion of permits and licensing.
Hamill was then told in early June that the owners aimed to open in July. After several more email inquiries, Hamill was notified that tours were delayed by renovations, but would take place in early July.
“There was no contact for a couple of days so I called and set up an appointment and met with Mary Helen at Tim Horton’s on July 12 and brought all the paperwork,” Hamill said. “She said parents were already registering for September and that I needed to pay registration and I gave a deposit of $918.90. Amlin said there were only 14 spots available, and seven were already filled.”
The plan was to open at the beginning of August, so Hamill made the payment.
When she didn’t hear back or get a response to an Aug. 16 email, Hamill called, but the number was no longer in service. A check of the website showed that Amlin’s photo had been taken down, she was no longer with the company and they were no longer taking applications.
“After the picture was removed, I kind of started freaking out,” Hamill recalled.
Follow-ups to the initial contact indicated that unavoidable delays had pushed the opening back again to late September or October, and that she could email Fei Shi to get her deposit returned.
Hamill has sent five emails since Aug. 18 to the address provided for Shi, with no response. “I talked to head office (in late August) and was told the franchises are independently owned, and there is nothing they can do.”
Following inquiries by the Gazette on Aug. 29, Willowbrae Academy Corporate posted a statement on Facebook on that said because the franchises are independently owned and operated, they were unable to provide refunds for deposits and registration, but will work diligently to find another operator.
That post was updated the next day with a message indicating they would “now be honouring all deposits and monies parents have made to the Langford Academy.”
Within hours of the updated Facebook post, Hal Johnson, owner of Body Break, contacted the Gazette from Toronto.
“I will be calling everyone involved personally to apologize and everyone involved, including the contractors, will be getting their money back immediately from Willowbrae Corporate,” said Johnson, who has worked as Willowbrae’s fitness director for the past five years.
“The good news is that some of the cheques to the previous owner have not gone through yet.”
Colwood resident Melissa Valenzuela made a deposit with Willowbrae for child care as well for more than $6oo. Her experience, for the most part, mirrors what’s happened to Hamill.
“Working with Willowbrae quickly turned from a positive to very negative experience,” she said. “Their lack of communication about delays and their lack of follow-through providing a refund is very concerning.”
The City of Langford issued a building permit for renovations to the property at #105 - 2780 Veterans Memorial Pkwy. in December 2017. An inspection was conducted in May, 2018, and building inspectors were back in July for a water line inspection. The City confirmed that a business licence would only be issued once the final inspection is completed and an occupancy permit has been granted.