Spring Creek daycare to close its doors 

Centre not sustainable after loss of infant programs in November

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The Spring Creek Campus of the Whistler Children's Centre will be closing its doors to all programs Friday, Feb. 27 as a cost-cutting measure.

The infant toddler programs that previously ran at capacity were closed on Nov. 28 because of lack of staff with provincial qualifications.

Enrolment in the centre's remaining programs, for children age three to five, is currently down as those kids have enrolled in ski school and other programs for the winter.

As a result, the centre has been losing money for several months. The Whistler Children's Centre (WCC) kept the programs running as a service to local parents, and in the hope that they would find teachers with the appropriate infant toddler and Early Childhood Educator qualifications to restart programs for kids aged three months to three years.

Now, the WCC has applied to the Resort Municipality of Whistler for the ability to sublet the space to another tenant while they look at other options.

A total of 21 families are directly affected by the closure, and several more would likely have re-enrolled in the program or taken more days after the ski school programs for children aged 3 to 5 finish at the end of March. WCC program director, Tanya Johnson, says a total of 29 families from Spring Creek reduced days or removed children completely for ski school.

Johnson has been working with the impacted families the past week and was able to guarantee at least one day a week for each child at the WCC's Nesters location. She says it was the best they could do in the situation.

"It's still kind of patchy care for some (families), some got a couple of days less than they were relying on before," she said. "And that doesn't include children that would be re-enrolling after ski school."

Johnson says the financial losses were significant and put the WCC in jeopardy. Even at capacity, and with fees about to increase in the spring, Spring Creek may not be viable without another source of funding.

"We were running at half capacity, and to not lose money we would need that centre full," she said. "But even the design of the building is not accommodating... In (two of the) classrooms for the older children there is a certain square foot allowance that only allows for 22 children and we need children's rooms at 25 to staff them properly and not have losses.

"Obviously we're looking at what we can do with it at this time... Maybe moving forward in the future we can redesign the building to open classrooms at full capacity and work for us again, but there are a lot of contributing factors and it really depends on what happens in the future."

Ryan Donohue, chair of the WCC parent committee, has had to make a lot of changes recently. When the infant programs at Spring Creek closed in November he was forced to divide his daughter's time between home care and Nesters before joining Nesters full-time. Now, with the older programs going, his son will move to Nesters as well.

He has seniority with the program and his son was able to get all the days he needed.

"He was definitely one of the lucky ones to get those spots, but some parents will not get the spots they need," said Donohue.

Donohue says the different options for parents pose a challenge, as parents have the choice of enrolling children in ski school up to two days a week, and in the Mark Warner daycare for two days a week. As a result it's hard for the WCC to plan for the future, and to run programs at capacity year-round.

The parent committee is looking at several options to reopen Spring Creek and work with different groups in the community. "Unfortunately we're going to see that building sit empty until a solution can be found for setting up the centre again," said Donohue. "That's not going to happen until A) we get more qualified staff to staff (infant) programs, or B) we bring enrolment and revenue up to make it financially viable to run the centre."

WCC has reopened its waitlist for kids aged three to five to ensure that programs will operate at capacity in September. The province is currently considering a move to full-time kindergarten that would be open to kids as young as three, but it likely won't happen until 2010. Full-time kindergarten is available in Whistler for a fee.

Currently the WCC has 96 families on its waitlist, most of them waiting for spots in the WCC's infant programs for kids three months to three years old. Currently 130 families attend WCC programs.

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