Golden Ears Preschool, which has run out of the Maple Ridge Leisure Centre for more than 30 years, is closing.
The non-profit preschool had been struggling with enrollment number for the past five years, but there were a number of factors that led to the difficult decision to shutter, said chair of the board Blake Whitelaw.
The preschool was run by the City of Maple Ridge during the 1980’s before the Golden Ears Preschool Association took it over in 1988.
And up until 2015, they were running four classes from the school. Soon they were only running three classes and then they were down to only two last year.
“When you only have a certain number of kids, you can’t really afford to pay teachers for three kids in a class,” said Whitelaw.
They had also struggled over the past couple of years to renew their lease with the city.
Then, just as they were getting to a point where they had enough students to open a third class again in 2018, the renovations started at the Leisure Centre.
”I think a lot of parents didn’t want their kids that close to a construction zone,” said Whitelaw.
“We did have to cancel some classes because the construction noise was very loud, because they were basically drilling on the opposite side of the wall of the preschool,” he noted.
Another issue that Whitelaw feels added to the struggles of the preschool was the demographic in Maple Ridge had started to change.
Whitelaw feels there were not as many single income families, but rather dual income, which meant that more families needed the longer hours that daycare provided, as opposed to the two to three hours preschool covered.
By the time COVID-19 hit, the preschool was in a bad financial position.
“In the first 25 years, we were very successful and we had a good financial cushion. But over the last five years we’ve eaten into that cushion each year in order to stay running,” said Whitelaw.
When they closed in March they intended to open again. But, after refunding one month of fees to their clients, they were not left with a whole lot of money. And their enrollment was only half of what it needed to be to to make the preschool financially viable.
“It was 28 kids to make it viable and we were at 20,” said Whitelaw.
So they made the difficult decision to close.
And they did it now to give families an opportunity to find new preschools for their children and the three teachers at the school to find new employment for September.
“Two weeks ago when we came to the decision I cried a lot,” said Whitelaw, adding that he is devastated.
He questions whether he made the right decision or if he could have done more to keep the preschool, with such deep roots in the community, running.
But, he said, it is a very different environment now than it was 10 or 15 years ago.