Burnaby city council is chipping away at an ambitious promise made six years ago with the school board to triple child-care spaces in the city.
Last month, Burnaby’s mayor and council agreed unanimously to approve a nearly $5.6-million grant to the school district for new infant-toddler daycare facilities at four district sites: Marlborough, Cascade Heights and Westridge elementary schools and the Marian Learning Resource Centre.
All told, the grant will fund the creation of 160 new spaces for kids five years old and younger.
The city has already partnered with the district on two other centres at Capitol Hill and Stride elementary schools.
“Affordable and accessible child care is essential for our community’s well-being, and, unfortunately, it is something that has been in short supply in our city and region for a very long time,” Mayor Mike Hurley said at a July 20 council meeting. “Providing these funds and partnering with the school board will ensure the availability of child-care spaces in the very near future at locations in Burnaby.”
The city is slowly making good on an agreement signed between city council and the school board in 2014.
Less than three weeks before the municipal election that year, councillors and trustees (all members of the Burnaby Citizens Association) signed a memorandum of understanding that would see the city pay to place 12 new childcare centres on school district sites.
The politicians promised the plan would triple child-care spaces in the city starting in 2015.
But, once another all-BCA mayor, council and school board were elected, the plan stalled.
“For one reason or another, the discussions kept being delayed,” Coun. Pietro Calendino said last month.
He said it was funds from the new NDP government that have helped move the plan forward.
But school board chair Gary Wong, who was on the board when the agreement was signed, laid the responsibility for the delays squarely at the city’s feet.
“What we relied upon, totally, is what we were told by the city,” he said in 2018. “It wasn’t our money.”
One major bone of contention that hadn’t been sorted out before the agreement was signed was that the board’s priority for child care was before- and after-school care, while the city was more interested in infant-toddler spaces.
The plan also ended up being a whole lot more complicated and expensive than anticipated before the promise was made, former mayor Derek Corrigan told the NOW in 2016.
In the end, what revived the plan was the initiative of the school board and district staff.
In December 2018, trustees unanimously approved a motion to study the feasibility of using existing school space or extra portables on school sites for not-for-profit before-and-after-school-care programs.
The motion also directed staff to continue working on the 2014 plan with the city.
Nine months later, the district unveiled a comprehensive three-phased plan to add hundreds of new spaces at local school sites.
Under the plan, the city would pay for the new infant-toddler spaces, and the province would fund the before- and after-school spaces.
The grant approved by the city last month will help pay for facilities planned for Phase 2.
The province has already chipped in $13.7 million toward Phases 1 and 2.
The city has also already given approval in principle to a further $664,000 for Phase 3, scheduled for 2021.
With the grant approved last month, city staff will now establish a funding agreement with the district that will ensure the facilities remain child-care centres for “the long term” (three 10-year terms); that the facilities are operated by qualified non-profit child-care providers; and that the operators opt in to the provincial child-care fee reduction program, according to a city staff report.
The “timing for completion” of facilities at Marlborough, Westridge, Cascade Heights, Suncrest and the Marian Learning Resource Centre was for fall 2020, the report said.
According to a school district buildings and grounds committee report in March, modular units for the new child-care centres had already been ordered, and delivery was expected to begin in mid-May.
No one at the school district was available for an update on the progress on the facilities.