(Neil Corbett/The News) Rachel Hess of Discovery Playhouse Children’s Society of Pitt Meadows with Ethan, Marcus and Madeleine. The daycare has just two years left in its lease with the city.

Pitt Meadows closing doors on non-profit daycare

Discovery Playhouse will lose its lease at rec centre

A non-profit daycare that offers Pitt Meadows families child care for as little as $360 per month may be forced to close, making way for city staff offices and rec centre programming.

Rachel Hess, manager of Discovery Playhouse Children’s Centre, said she was denied the opportunity to address council while negotiating a lease for the child care centre at the Pitt Meadows Family Recreation Centre on Harris Road.

Instead, she appeared before council during Tuesday night’s question period.

She said Discovery started in 1974, has been in its present location for 18 years, and serves 80-100 families every day. She told council the lease with the city will end in September 2020, and the more than 2,000 square feet the daycare occupies will be used for office spaces, and programming.

“Is this the vision that you have for your recreation centre, to replace families and children with office spaces for your staff?” she asked council. “When you walk into your community centre, do you want to see offices, or do you want to see families and children?”

She said attracting families to the daycare brings them to the facility, and they learn about other programs being offered at the rec centre.

Mayor John Becker said council’s decisions were discussed in private meetings, and he could not comment on them publicly.

He added that staff has been asked to work with Hess to see what other sites in the city may be appropriate for the daycare.

Hess responded that she has not heard from staff since the lease agreement was negotiated in June.

“It is very difficult to find an alternate location,” she said.

She said the provincial government has recognized that availability of daycare is a problem, and is attempting to create 22,000 new child care spaces in the province, but Pitt Meadows is about to lose a facility.

Becker told Hess at the meeting it is not appropriate for him to “re-engage” about a decision council has already made.

Hess said the daycare’s first offer from the city would have seen the rent rise by approximately 110 per cent over a three-year term, with the daycare closing after the lease. It was a disastrous offer for the daycare, she said, which would have seen costs rising dramatically for the parents it serves.

Families needing daycare for children aged 3-5 pay $610 per month after they receive a government subsidy. Those with children under three pay $360. That’s less than half of what some private daycares are charging.

Hess was able to negotiate a 30-per-cent increase over two years, with the lease ending in September 2020.

She said the only other option in Pitt Meadows appears to be in a business park, but the school would need a bus, and rent would increase.

“Our rates might have to double.”

Becker said after the meeting that the daycare lease was negotiated in 2017, agreed to by the daycare board, and, “somewhat surprisingly,” council was approached by parents complaining about the arrangements.

He said the provision of daycare is important to people in Pitt Meadows who commute to work, and noted the city leases space to other daycares, and allows daycares in zones where it would not otherwise be permitted, including the Golden Ears Business Park, to make accessing the service convenient for parents.

Becker said the city’s new recreation department, established last year, has “significant demands for increased programs and services.”

He has been told by city staff the space in the recreation centre will be used for programs and services, such as socialization for new immigrants and support systems for youth at risk.

“Very little, if any, of that space is going to be used for administrative offices,” said Becker.

He added that the province has allocated “significant resources” that a non-profit daycare can access to provide spaces.

A new privately owned daycare that opened for business in Pitt Meadows earlier this year will have an official opening on Sept. 15, with Becker in attendance.

CEFA Meadowtown is accepting applications for enrolment, and says fees range from $1,425 to $1,590 depending on the child’s age, before government subsidies. The subsidies are $350 per month for infant and toddler care, and $100 per month for children three and older.

“With B.C.’s ongoing child care and early education crunch, the opening of this new facility will help more than 150 families in the area with over 11,000 square feet of space and 11 licensed classrooms for children ages 1-5,” said a press release.

“Mayor Becker will be making remarks on the need for facilities like CEFA in the Pitt Meadows community and the impact on families in the area. CEFA Meadowtown owners will also speak to the struggles they faced trying to secure child care in the area for their own children, which ultimately led them to open CEFA Meadowtown.”

Councillor Bill Dingwall, who is a candidate for mayor of Pitt Meadows, declined to comment on the issue, saying discussion happened during in camera meetings.

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