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More daycare on the horizon

Spring Creek daycare reopening 2011; Teddy Bear likely to stay open

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Relief may be on the horizon for young families in Whistler.

This week, the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) announced that Spring Creek daycare will likely reopen in January 2011, and a deal to continue running Teddy Bear daycare out of MY Millennium Place indefinitely is in the works.

That should come as welcome news to people seeking childcare, since the number of spaces available was pinched in recent months with Spring Creek closing March 1 and Teddy Bear daycare's future on the line.

But Whistler Children's Centre (WCC) director Kari Gaudet said reopening Spring Creek has always been the plan.

"There was never an intention to close it permanently," said Gaudet. "We were just in a position where we could no longer keep it running."

According to Gaudet, 14 days after WCC ceased operations at Spring Creek, the building reverted back to the municipality, and "from the get-go, the municipality was willing to work with us and figure out what to do with the building."

The current deal is that the municipality will cover the costs of maintaining the facility, and 20 months from now WCC will move back into the space and run the day care again.

"It may not take 20 months, but the RMOW has provided us with that time so that WCC can assess all the factors out there," said Gaudet, adding that the centre needs to attract more qualified childcare workers, among other things.

"We are continually trying to recruit locally... We do find people with ECE (Early Childhood Education), but they are from other provinces or countries. That is not advantageous to us because we need teachers to be B.C. qualified."

About 110 families currently use WCC's services, and another 100 are on the waitlist.

Gaudet indicated that while 20 months may be a long time for young families currently strapped for childcare, there are not a lot of other options.

Added Roger Weetman, manager of recreation services for the RMOW: "From what I understand, it is not a problem that is going to be solved overnight.

"It is not like you are going to put in an ad and get staff right away... It is kind of a chicken and an egg thing."

According to Weetman, it will cost the municipality somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000 a year to maintain the Spring Creek building.

Also, the facility needs to be renovated to bring it up to code with provincial regulations for day care. When the building was constructed, the province changed regulations from 3.2 to 3.7 square metres per child.

Renovations to the daycare on Nesters Road, WCC's main facility, are also planned for June this year, at which time the Dandelion daycare program will temporary move to the Spring Creek location.

But Councillor Ralph Forsyth - who is part of the Childcare Working Group and has expressed the need for childcare in the community in the past - said he sympathizes with families who can't find enough childcare in town.

"I am in the same boat... I don't have childcare on Tuesdays or Thursdays," said Forsyth.

He added, though: "I am hopeful that the Teddy Bear Day Care is going to be resolved shortly. That will be another viable option people can get back on."

According to Weetman, the RMOW and Whistler Blackcomb have not finalized an operating deal for Teddy Bear Day Care just yet. But he is confident the two parties will be able to work out an agreement soon.

At the crux of the matter is that there are rules set out by the Community Charter on how a municipality can do business with a private business.

"We are having our lawyers do research in terms of what our options are," said Weetman.

"We are not negotiating yet. We have some ideas on the table in terms of what the prior agreement was with MY Millennium Place and that seems fine by both parties.... The question is how do we make it happen."

In the meantime, Teddy Bear's current term at MY Place has been extended to the end of June. Original plans were to close it this month.

Also, Forsyth said if a deal is reached on Teddy Bear Day Care, the kids there will be provided with some sort of care at an alternate location during the Olympic "blackout" period at MY Millennium Place.

While Teddy Bear day care currently has space for 16 kids a day, the day care is not full right now, said Weetman.

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