Two Edmonton daycares struggle to open new spaces despite government funding

Two daycares that received grant money to expand affordable spaces say the funding isn’t enough to accommodate the additional spaces they need.

High rent costs have forced Oliver Centre, ABC Head Start to look elsewhere for affordable buildings

Premier Rachel Notley meets children Thursday at the Intercultural Child and Family Centre in the former McCauley School in Edmonton. (CBC)

Two daycares that received grant money to expand affordable spaces say the government funding isn't enough to buy or rent the bigger buildings they would need.

Oliver Centre and the ABC Head Start Society were two of 22 daycare centres that received money several months ago from the Alberta government's $25-a-day pilot program.

But officials at both centres say the money was not enough to create the 76 combined additional spaces they were supposed to open as part of the grant program.

"With the amount of the grant that we received, it's not enough to cover off an affordable space," Suzanne MacLean, executive director of the Oliver Centre, said Thursday.

The not-for-profit daycare has been searching for a new space large enough to accommodate their current programming in addition to the 40 extra spaces the money is intended to open.

"When you're out there looking for affordable child-care space, it's really, really difficult," she said, adding that many building owners charge up to $35 per square foot. That, plus operating costs, means the daycare won't be able to afford a new place, so it won't be able to use the grant money or create new spaces.

That means the Oliver Centre has been forced to look outside of the neighbourhood for affordable child-care space.

'Struggling' to find cheap rent

Walter Lidster, the executive director of the ABC Head Start Society, said they're in a similar situation.

They were unable to find a building to accommodate the 37 additional spaces in Edmonton, so they're now looking at opening a new daycare centre in Fort Saskatchewan, where things are more affordable. Lidster said they're aiming to open the new location by July this year.

"It was never meant to go anywhere but Edmonton," Lidster said Thursday. "Everybody has been struggling to find affordable places."

Lidster said he has spoken to people from many of the other 21 centres selected last fall who have expressed similar concerns about lack of resources and funding.

"I think it wasn't anticipated as much as they thought, what was the kind of capital cost that was going to have to be done up front," he said.

"We know how to be frugal and we know how to stretch a buck, but it's been a real challenge."

Centres set their own limitations: government

In a statement to CBC News, Zoë Cooper, the communications director for children's services, said the non-profits applied to the grant programs with their own parameters on how many children they could accommodate.

Before the grants were approved, Cooper said, the child-care centres were evaluated to ensure they could handle expansions.

"Submissions for new programs included an outline about how they would become operational, and where necessary whether they needed physical space," Cooper said in an email.

With the amount of the grant that we received, it's not enough to cover off an affordable space.- Suzanne MacLean, Oliver Centre

Both the Oliver Centre and ABC Head Start Society applied for new programs that would require additional space.

Lidster said all parties underestimated how difficult it would be for non-profit child-care programs to find affordable space, given the amount of money they received.

"If the government had decided that they would give capital grants to agencies to allow us to find buildings, renovate them and make it a repayable loan or make it a forgivable loan … I think that would have helped," he said.

"It really wasn't enough money," MacLean said. "Part of that is probably our fault, because we were very excited about receiving the grant. But [we] had no idea of the repercussions as far as the cost of space."

Both Lidster and MacLean are cautiously optimistic about their recent meetings with the government about their pilot project.

"I do believe they are listening to what we are saying," MacLean said.

"You should be able to change your programming or your approach based on the learnings from the pilots," Lidster said. "And I would really invite the government to do that."