(File photo: Francis Tessier-Burns).

Limoges daycare woes coming to an end

Parents whose children attend the daycare at the Limoges Pavilion are once again facing uncertainty.

Last year, Les P’tits Coeurs threatened to close after an issue with La Nation Municipality selling the building. Now, almost a year later, the daycare is definitely closing, according to its director, Camille Lalonde.

The decision, she says, boils down to an increase in rent that isn’t sustainable in the long-term.

Rent discussions

In September 2017, La Nation accepted to sell the building to JEMICS! Enterprises Inc. owned by John Montojo and Stéphanie Desjardins-Montojo. However, the sale didn’t go through until July 2018.

After the scare last fall, Lalonde says she wanted to sign a long-term lease with the new owners. In an email, Mr. Montojo provided a letter that showed they were ready to offer a 20-year lease. The letter also outlines other efforts from the owners to collaborate with the sustainability of the daycare and dismisses “rumours and conspiracy theories” about closing down all daycare services. The letter can be read in full below.

Early on in the lease negotiations, Lalonde says she and the Montojos discussed the possibility of adding an extra space to the daycare, which would provide an additional 15 spots. According to Lalonde, the rent increase discussed would have been just over $1,000 dollars for the additional space. The letter provided by Mr. Montojo confirms the addition of 15 spots but doesn’t specify the rent increase.

The Review obtained a copy of the lease which showed the following increases: For the first five years of the lease, the daycare was to pay $5,000 monthly in “base rent” plus HST; for years 6-10, $5,500; years 11-15, $6,050; and years 16-20, $6,655, again these amounts are payable every month and are subject to HST.

According to Lalonde, the figure in the lease was much higher than what was discussed. Nonetheless, with the approval of the board of directors, the daycare signed the lease in late June. Asked why the lease was signed despite knowing the amounts weren’t viable long-term, Lalonde says they were “under pressure” to sign so the sale of the building could go through.

Asked about the rent discussion and the pressure to sign, Mr. Montojo said in an email, “I respectfully disagree with the portrayal of events that transpired, but decline to comment further since I believe this was/is a private business matter and should not have been aired in a public forum to begin with.”

In a letter dated August 31, Les P’tits Coeurs told parents the daycare would be closing as of Friday, October 26.

It also outlines a “substantial increase in rent” from $3,700 to $6,215, an additional $2,515 per month and other expenses. This is higher than what was shown in the lease. The Review asked about the discrepancy between the rent totals in the letter and the lease, but as of the time of writing, Lalonde hasn’t answered.

New tenant, ongoing daycare

Nancy Kelly, director of Centre éducatifs Les Petits Trésors, says the Montojos approached her when they heard of the closure of Les P’tits Coeurs.

“I knew the biggest issue was rent,” she says.

Kelly runs seven other daycares under the Les Petits Trésors banner, one of which is in Limoges. Between the two locations, the daycare will offer 110 daycare spots to the community. Kelly says she’s still unsure how many spots will actually be open when Les Petits Trésors will take over at the Pavilion in a month or so, although she says she’s aware of high demand for places for children under 24 months of age.

“We need to get stability in the community… and I mostly didn’t want to lose the clientele that was already there,” she says.

Les Petits Trésors isn’t without its share of uncertainty. Soon after the debacle between Les P’tits Coeurs and La Nation last fall, Les Petits Trésors ended up closing after the building owners increased rent by 25 per cent. Many of the children ended up at Les P’tits Coeurs during closure. Two months later the daycare opened again with cheaper rent.

Kelly says she had a similar discussion with the Montojos.

Asked about the agreement with the Pavilion owners, Kelly declined to go into details but said she made them understand that the rent cost wouldn’t be sustainable for any daycare. She added that the terms would be shorter, only three or fours years at a time and cheaper than what was signed by Les P’tits Coeurs.

Finally, Kelly says key to her ability to open another spot in Limoges is the pooling of resources between all other locations.

“You’ll see less and less stand-alone daycares as the years go by just because it’s become too expensive to operate daycares with all the regulations.”

Finally, she said daycare fees will be the same at both Limoges locations and will be “no more than $40 per day.” Currently, Les P’tits Coeurs fees are $44 for kids 12 to 30 months, $42 for 30 months to four years and $20 for before and after school.

Seamless transition

Virtually anything daycare-related in the area has to go through the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR). Anne Comtois Lalonde, director of social services for the UCPR, says when her department was approached with the situation in Limoges, it pressured the ministry to fast-track the approval of a new license for Les Petits Trésors. Both Kelly and Comtois Lalonde said the goal is to prevent any interruption in services.

That was certainly made easier with La Nation Mayor François St. Amour currently the head of council at the UCPR.

Comtois Lalonde says there has been a bit of concentration of daycare services in the region over the past few years but is hesitant to say it’ll be the new norm.

“We’re not pushing one way or the other,” she says.