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St. Adolphe Daycare Initiative Passes Council’s First Reading

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Ritchot CAO Mitch Duval addresses residents at a public meeting. Brenda Sawatzky

On November 22, the RM of Ritchot’s council held a public hearing at Pioneer Hall to give first reading to a general borrowing bylaw for the St. Adolphe childcare project. The intent of the meeting was to provide information regarding the scope of council’s proposal as well as give the public an opportunity to speak to it. The meeting saw almost a full house of residents and proponents ready to support the project.

Discussions on options to house the provincially promised 90 new daycare spots began in the fall of 2017. Council, together with a daycare taskforce, set out to look at a variety of options. In the end, one location stood out as the most feasible and financially sound: the RM-owned building at 372 Main Street.

“As we started the project, we investigated various sites and options throughout the community,” said CAO Mitch Duval. “We narrowed our options down to the site at 372 Main Street, which is commonly known as the [former] Brodeur car dealership. In July of 2018, the municipality moved forward and [hired] an architectural firm for schematic design and cost estimates in regard to renovation of the building.”

Council received proposals from four different architectural firms and selected Bridgman Collaborative Architecture, a firm with 36 years of experience, including the design of childcare and community recreation centres. Wins Bridgman, principle architect and director of the firm, addressed council through a PowerPoint presentation that included a conceptual design and a recorded message for those in attendance.

“The existing building at 372 Main has many characteristics that would be an asset to a childcare facility,” said Bridgman in the message. “These assets include large windows, high ceilings, frontage on Main Street, a large play area in the back and a smaller play area on the side of the building for infants, 19 parking spots for staff and visitors, as well drop off for ten cars adjacent to Main Street. The proposed transformation from an auto dealership… to a purpose-filled childcare centre shows the possibilities of this budget-conscious adaptive re-use: a building project that could be open and ready for use as early as September 2019.”

As proposed, the renovated building would meet provincial building codes and requirements for a childcare facility and easily accommodate the licensed childcare spots newly granted by the province as well as the existing daycare spots currently housed in the school and at St. Adolphe Bible Fellowship. In total, the expansion would allow for 12 infant spots, 56 preschool spots, and 45 school-age spots.

The Main Street building would require upgraded insulation, new mechanical and electrical systems, and an entirely new layout before it’s ready for use by the daycare.

The interior design would include administrative offices, an infant care room with direct access to an outdoor play area, two classrooms for school-age children, and a gathering hub with a kitchen to act as an assembly and indoor play area. One of the school-age rooms would have direct outside access and could be used by the community for extracurricular programs when not in use by the daycare.

Each class would have its own dedicated washroom area. The facility would also provide separate space for staff, special needs washrooms, and a storage area. According to Duval, the exterior of the building would be unchanged apart from the installation of some windows and doors if needed.

The total cost estimate for the reconstruction comes to $1.7 million. Of that amount, $1.5 million is expected for demolition and renovation while the balance will cover the costs of architectural design, testing, and a nominal contingency fund.

To fund this project, the provincial government has promised a grant to the community of $560,000 from their Early Learning and Child Care Building Fund. Council has determined that one of the annual allotments of $140,000 from the Hydro Community Development Initiative will also be earmarked for this project. The final $1 million will be borrowed from the RM’s municipal surplus monies.

Duval says this surplus exists in the RM’s coffers due to an accumulation of funds budgeted for other projects that came in underbudget. Because the money would not need to be borrowed from a financial institution, residents won’t see any tax increases to support the daycare build or operating costs down the road.

“As of our 2017 audited financial statement, our accumulated nominal surplus is around $3.5 million,” says Duval. “The million dollars that we would loan out for this project is currently earning about two percent [interest] on investment. We would be charging 1.75 percent [interest] on the loan to the daycare, so there’s a .25 percent deficit on that. At the end of the lease [period], the RM would still have ownership of the building, control of the building, control of the land, and would likely re-enter into another lease agreement at that point 20 years down the road.”

For the childcare facility, a 20-year lease scenario would require a loan from the RM of about $1.2 million, which includes the interest paid over the lease period. Annually, this means that a lease payment of $59,680 would be expected from the daycare committee. The RM can provide the flexibility of a one-time per annum payment or monthly payment terms. Duval estimates the utilities to come to an additional $18,750 for 2019.

Council entertained comments from those in attendance. Many residents came forward with pleas for council to consider voting in favor of the initiative as presented, citing the desperate need for daycare options in the community, the potential jobs that could be created, the draw this would be for families considering a move to the area, and the message council would be sending by investing in the community’s children.

“In today’s fast-paced, dual-income world, there is an increasing number of families becoming dependent on two incomes, so in turn the need for quality childcare has skyrocketed,” said Lana Redmond, Ste. Adolphe Nursery School director. “Our wait list… is currently 125 children and is growing every day. I get daily phone calls from parents looking for childcare spots, but we are unable to help them.”

In the end, council voted unanimously in favour of the first reading of the borrowing bylaw. From here, it is required to go to the provincial municipal board for approval or recommended changes to the bylaw. Council will then entertain second and third reading before tangible steps can be taken on the new build. While Duval cannot say how long it will take to get approval from the province, time is of the essence to keep the promised provincial daycare spots before the deadline date in April 2019.

In the meantime, the St. Adolphe Nursery School board continues to fundraise in the anticipation that everything will eventually fall into place.

“We are hoping to raise $100,000 for the inside furnishings, so bookshelves, books, toys, and change pads,” says Kori Plesiuk, chairperson of the board. “Anything that isn’t attached to the floor is the daycare’s responsibility. We wanted to start getting things rolling and demonstrate to the RM that we were putting [energy and money] behind this [proposal].”

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