(File photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Limoges daycare may be forced to close due to The Nation’s decision to sell pavilion

UPDATE (August 29; 10:30 a.m.): This story has been updated to reflect The Nation’s council decision to reimburse two months of the daycare’s rent at the date of sale in October. 

Ashleigh was elated when she learned her son could get a spot at Garderie les P’tits Coeurs in the Limoges Pavilion after being on the waitlist for more than a year.

After moving to the area less than three years ago, she says finding daycare availability had been a huge challenge. She had found home daycare when her son was younger, but was ready to move him to a centre.

On August 10, her son spent his first day at his new daycare. A week later, Ashleigh (whose last name we are omitting for privacy purposes) got a letter saying the daycare will be closing in two months.

“I was in shock, I was frustrated,” says Ashleigh upon hearing the news.

That letter to the parents was sent about three weeks after the daycare received a letter from The Nation stating its current lease would be terminated on October 27.

Left confused and stressed, Ashleigh took to facebook to voice her concerns. After asking why the municipality would close such a service, she wrote, “This leaves families like myself scrambling looking for new child care services in a community that doesn’t have a lot of options.”

She adds, “For me being only (at the daycare) for a week and going out of my way to post that, just shows how happy I was with the centre.”

That initial message started somewhat of a storm on the Limoges citizens closed group page, with multiple comments and follow-up posts trying to discern what exactly happened between the municipality and the daycare.

Clearing the air

The conversation compelled Francis Brière, councillor for Ward 4, which includes Limoges, to call a public meeting on the evening of Wednesday, August 23 at the daycare. At the meeting, Brière justified the municipality’s decision by saying the pavilion would be doubling services with the incoming sports dome. In a follow-up interview, he added that the building runs a $45,000 deficit every year.

When asked if selling the building was put on the table to mitigate the incoming cost of the dome, he said: “I don’t think they’re necessarily linked. It’s not about mitigating costs.” And added, “Our community groups will no longer be using the pavilion at all… If we already available space for our community centre at our sports dome then why keep continue incurring a cost on something that isn’t necessary anymore?” And later, “People think our taxes are very high and these are ways of saving money.” Finally, when asked if the municipality would have kept the building had the dome not been on the table, then he said: “Yes, I would say so. I would go as far as saying that would be something we continue having.”

At the public meeting, Brière also that from the municipality’s standpoint there would be “no interruption of service” since the lease wouldn’t end until the land was sold, which he estimated to be in late October. He added that council has also zoned the land solely for daycare purposes. Part of that decision is to incite potential buyers to take advantage of coming provincial subsidies for daycare expansions.

Since declaring the building surplus at its council meeting in late July, the municipality has been accepting bids for the 48,000-square-foot property. Brière says three parties have so far shown interest. The deadline for submissions is September 8, at which point the municipality will review the bids and, according to Brière, will hopefully finalize the sale in late October.

But at the public meeting last Wednesday, Julie Wilson, the current president of the board of directors, said the daycare likely wouldn’t last that long.

“The damage is done,” added Camille Lalone, the daycare’s director.

Since sending the letter to parents about the termination of the lease, Lalonde said the daycare has lost 12 kids. Its maximum capacity is 45 children, but even before the letter it was still running under capacity.

Currently the daycare’s total rent ranges between $3,500 and $3,800 a month; covering that with less than a third of capacity makes paying rent a major struggle for the next two months.

But, this is all déjà vu for the daycare.

Round two of uncertainty

In 2015, there were rifts between the municipality and the daycare, which led to a similar situation of nearly terminating the lease at the time.

A letter was sent to parents; parents pulled their kids out of the daycare, which was left, according to Lalonde, to “rebuild” its reputation since then. Despite the efforts, she says it’s never operated at full capacity since that first letter two years ago.

After many meetings in 2015, the municipality and the daycare came to agreement to renew the lease for two years with the possibility of two one-year extensions thereafter. Conditional to the deal was the daycare’s board of directors had to try and find a new location.

According to a board member at the time, it approached the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien (CSDCEO), which owns the Saint-Viateur school annex in Limoges, to explore the possibility of moving the daycare to that building. The school board said it would cost between $70,000 and $80,000 in operating fees and didn’t want to invest.

Once those talks fell apart, Julie Wilson, the current president of the board of directors, said it sought out a handful of other locations, but none panned out.

Despite this, the municipality and the daycare signed an extension to the lease this past March that would last until March 2018.

This added to the confusion of when it received a letter from the municipality saying it was terminating the lease in October.

When asked what the board did in regards to finding a new location since the new lease was signed, she said “we were always open to the possibility of an investor.” Since receiving the letter, though, it also worked with the United Counties of Prescott and Russell to approach the CSDCEO to once again look at the possibility of the annex.

“That was our best shot,” says Wilson.

When it got word that the school board again didn’t want to invest, Wilson says that’s when the daycare decided to notify the parents of the lease termination.

Back to today

That brings us back to the meeting of last Wednesday and the daycare saying it may not be able to make rent until October.  

Wilson says after the meeting, the board asked councillor Brière—and council by extension—for compensation for the kids that have been pulled out of the daycare as well as “at a minimum rent be paid, ideally until the sale,” says Wilson. “Francis seems very confident that it’ll happen in October.”

During the meeting, Lalonde, the daycare director, said council couldn’t wait until its next meeting, which was scheduled for early September, claiming the daycare didn’t have the financial means to even stay open that long.

Asked to clarify, Julie Wilson says, that “two weeks isn’t set in stone.” But with the returning of deposits and the loss of revenue from the 12 kids that have been pulled from the daycare it puts a significant financial strain.

“We don’t want to go bankrupt,” says Wilson. “We want to close the daycare properly if it comes to that.”

Both Lalonde and Wilson says they aren’t against the municipality selling the building; in fact, a long-term owner puts the daycare in a much more stable position than relying on yearly leases. The issue they wanted addressed was the lack of responsibility on the municipality’s part for putting the daycare in dire financial straits.

That revelation took many by surprise at the meeting.

“I understand the time crunch now, so now I’ll put in a little bit of urgency,” said Brière. The next morning, the councillor contacted the rest of council and they decided to call an emergency council meeting for August 28, but the discussion specifically about the daycare will be held in a closed session.

During a phone call Tuesday morning, Brière said council came to an agreement to help the daycare financially until the land is sold.

Essentially, Brière said to ensure service continues, the daycare will still have to pay rent for September and October, but once the sale of the land is complete, then the municipality would reimburse those two months.

Asked what happens in the case the sale doesn’t happen, he said: “By the end of October the sale will have gone through, I’m very confident that we’re at that point. The interested parties are very interested.”

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