The Saanich Peninsula stands to lose 30 child care spaces with the coming closure unless alternatives are found.
North Saanich’s In the Garden Child Care Centre is preparing to leave its current location on Emerad Terrace – space sublet from the Allegro Performing Arts Centre, which leases the former Sansbury Elementary School from School District 63.
While the school district and the performing arts centre have renewed their lease, it does not include the facilities that the child care centre sublets, the school’s former gymnasium and a portable. This decision shared with Allegro in the fall of 2019 spells the end of the child care centre at that location.
Tracey Mccullough, who operates the centre with her husband, found a new location for the centre’s infant-toddler program and its program for children aged three to five within North Saanich, less than a 10-minute drive from its current location. But they won’t have room for before and after-school care.
“We are sad about that, but there is not really a good place to transfer that [before and after-school care],” Mccullough said.
Located about a kilometre away from Kelset elementary, the closing child care has been serving that institution, and the closure threatens to compound the lack of before and after-school care for parents with children attending that school.
In late 2019, Saanich Peninsula Presbyterian Church reclaimed space previously used by Beacon’s Nature Club. It had used that space for three months after closing down operations at Kelset Elementary School after the school had reclaimed space to meet rising student numbers.
Mccullough said she feels terrible for parents now looking for alternatives. “We are really hoping that the school board can figure this out for them,” she said. “We think the school board has done a disservice to the students of Kelset by closing the Kelset Care [run by Beacon Community Services], and now not renewing our lease.”
Jason Reid, SD63 secretary-treasurer, said the school district did not include the facilities used by the child care in its lease agreement with Allegro, because of their conditions. “Those parts of the building [the former’s school gymnasium and a portable] have come to the end of their life.”
Reid said the cost of fixing the buildings is “prohibitive.” He said the district has cost estimates for fixing the buildings, but could not offer a precise figure.
“The roof on the building needs to be replaced,” he said. “The cost of that is in the neighbourhood of $600,000 to $700,000. There are seismic issues with the building. In particular, there are significant seismic issues and concerns with the gymnasium. The costs of repairing that is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars at least.”
Ultimately, the school district has to balance priorities, said Reid. “We can’t funnel education dollars into these facilities, and because it is no longer an active school, it doesn’t qualify for capital funding from the ministry.”
Reid said the district has been transparent when asked for his message to parents who might be blaming the school district. “The leasing of these facilities was an opportunity that arose out of the closure of a school, but it was never envisioned that these facilities would be suitable for continued use in perpetuity,” he said. “We do everything we can to provide before and after-school care, but we are also not in the business of leasing facilities that we don’t feel are suitable or safe, especially for children.”
Reid added later he is hopeful that alternatives will be in place come September. While not always possible, the district always looks for opportunities to offer before and after-school care through community partners on school grounds or in school buildings themselves, said Reid.
“Before and after-school care is not within the educational mandate of the school district, but it is very important to our families, so it is important to us,” he said. “We do everything we can working with community partners to create the facility of before and after-school care spaces, and we have been discussing with Panorama Recreation their plans to expand the capacity of their before and after-school care program at Greenglade and possibly providing transportation between Kelset and that facility.”
We are also discussing options with a number of other community partners.”
Looking at the larger search for before and after-school care at Kelset, Reid said the district has been discussing these concerns with parents as well as the parents’ advisory council. “Moving before and after school care out of Kelset [in the summer of 2019] was unfortunate, but it was necessary because of the enrolment growth at the school, and the implementation of reduced class sizes. We were contractually required to use that space to provide educational services and we are required through legislation, through contract, to prioritize that within that school.”
There is some good news for parents who have been using the child care centre.
It has managed to secure space from Allegro to operate it summer programs through July and August, but at reduced numbers.
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