Strawberry Vale Preschool balks at school board rent increase

Community run preschool dates back to 1951

Volunteer organizers of the long running Strawberry Vale Co-Op Preschool in Saanich are hoping they can convince their landlords not to increase the rent as planned.

The preschool’s president Kimberley Guiry posted a long letter on Facebook this week pleading to parents past and present, and other members of the community, in pressuring SD61 to reconsider the pending rent increase, which jumps from the current deal of $230 per month to $649 in July and then $1,079 in July of 2019.

Costs are covered by school tuition with a total of 33 children in two classes, a three-year-old class (twice-a-week) and a four-year-old class (three-a-week).

Tom Ferris, vice chair of the SD61 board, said the decision follows a course of action first voted on by the SD61 board over a year ago.

“SD61 isn’t in the business of subsidizing preschools or day-cares,” Ferris said. “We’re in the course of normalizing rates in the district, and this decision came out of making sure the district was covering the costs of operation and maintenance and depreciation.

“We gave them couple of years notice and at the end of last year we were fully implementing the new charge across the district but gave them one more year to catch up on the last jump.”

However, Strawberry Vale Preschool has been run by community volunteers since 1951 and is only in existence because the community stepped up to save it multiple times, said Angie Hentze, a parent at Strawberry Vale Preschool and the vice president of its volunteer-run administration.

“What people don’t understand is this is a unique situation,” Hentze said. “It was saved from being a dressing room for baseball at Rosedale Park in the 1970s, and it was eventually bought from Saanich for a dollar and saved from being knocked down in 1994 when the new Strawberry Vale School was built [and the old schoolhouse was moved to its current spot].”

The community has always stepped up to protect Strawberry Vale Preschool and it won’t stop now, Hentze said.

“We’ve had four early childhood educators [teachers] since 1951,” Hentze said. “That just shows you what a community this is.”

Construction on the 124-year-old building started in 1893. The one-room, wood-frame Strawberry Vale School House is one of the oldest school houses in Western Canada and the oldest functioning school in the Greater Victoria School District, according to Saanich’s heritage registry. It was moved from its original spot on Hastings Street to Rosedale Avenue in 1951 (and then moved again along Rosedale in 1994).

The low rent deal dates back to 1994, when the SD61 supervisor of building projects signed a letter that the “Little Red Schoolhouse is intended to be dedicated to pre-school use permanently.”

The letter also stated it the Little Red Schoolhouse would remain “independent and separate from the new [Strawberry Vale] school” and “autonomous use as a pre-school facility.”

“Along the way the parents have put in $70,000 worth of upgrades and designated the building as heritage,” Hentze said. “So for the district to now say this is their asset and charge us [market rent] is not right.”

When the preschool was originally notified last year of an impending rent increase, it led to consultations with SD61 that carried into the fall. Hentze said they had heard nothing until very recently.


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