With the next election less than a year away, city councillors and school trustees are getting closer to making good on a third of a promise made at the height of their last campaign more than three years ago.
In October 2014, just over two weeks before voting day, city council and the Burnaby school board – made up entirely of Burnaby Citizens Association councillors and trustees campaigning for re-election – announced a plan to triple child-care spaces in the city.
The plan was for the city to fund the construction of 12 new facilities on school district lands.
Coun. Colleen Jordan was quoted by one media outlet saying there were “huge” waiting lists for all the city’s daycares and that the city had density bonus money from developers for the project.
“We want to get this in place and get it going,” she told 24hrs in October 2014.
None of the facilities have yet been built, but last month the city approved $6 million in density bonus money for the design and construction of four stand-alone modular buildings to be placed at Capitol Hill, Montecito, Cascade Heights and Stride Avenue elementary schools – providing daycare spaces for about 100 toddlers.
The city intends to engage an architect before the end of the year and start the detailed design “as soon as possible,” according to a staff report.
The four centres should be up and running by late summer, according to Coun. Dan Johnston, just ahead of October’s municipal election.
“I never dreamed that it would take so long to get to this stage,” Jordan said at a Nov. 27 council meeting.
Mayor Derek Corrigan concurred.
“I’ve got to admit, this was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,” Corrigan said. “In the 30-plus years I’ve been here, I’ve been involved in building arts centres and ice rinks and community centres and swimming pools, roads and works yards and all kinds of things over the course of those years that were big projects to take on, but this has been one of the more difficult ones, in that we really had to learn about a business that isn’t part of what we normally do.”
City council approved an $80,000 feasibility study of three sites in February 2015. That study was still “ongoing” a year later.
Council then released another $300,000 in July of this year for a detailed assessment of six sites.
The project was held up by a number of factors, according to Corrigan, including costs associated with some sites and the politics of deciding where to place the centres and what kinds of child care they would provide. The project was further delayed, he said, by the school district needing land to place its own portables after a Supreme Court of Canada decision on class sizes led to the need for more classroom space. Councillors also pointed to a shortage of portables on the market generally.
Despite the delays, Corrigan said the plan to partner with the school board to build the 12 centres had been a good one, since the cost of building a single centre would otherwise have been about $6 million.
“We said, ‘We can do better than that; we can do more,’ and we have,” he said. “Here’s $6 million building four daycares utilizing school board land, but it’s certainly been much more of a process than we ever thought it would be.”
When the remaining eight promised child-care facilities would be built wasn’t discussed at last month’s meeting.
“One thing I can assure you, is the next ones will be easier now that we’ve gone through the process once,” Corrigan said, “and hopefully the provincial government is going to come in and provide some funding for these units so that we can do another project quickly.”