After the City of Kamloops voted against a daycare temporarily renting out the abandoned Stuart Wood elementary school, parents of the 50 children enrolled in the downtown Children's Circle Daycare are worried about what they’re going to do come June.
Amy Pannett has a child in the daycare and sits on the board for the non-profit Children’s Circle Daycare Society. The daycare needs to leave its current location due to the Royal Inland Hospital expansion, and they must find a new location by June 1. She says the board who oversees the operation is disappointed in the City's decision, as they likely won’t be able to find a space as suitable as the old school.
“We identified Stuart Wood as sort of ticking all the boxes for both parties. It was the right amount of space for us, it was the right amount of work to go in and update it for our needs which were very, very little. Because of the classroom layout, all we needed was our commercial dishwasher to go in, everything else was already there," Pannett says. "We saw the advantage to the City being that they could get a little bit of income from a property thats sitting empty… and us being in there temporarily wasn’t going to be destructive to their long term plans.”
Kamloops city council discussed the possibility at a closed council meeting on Jan. 21. The motion was defeated 4 to 3, as Mayor Ken Christian and councillors Dieter Dudy, Kathy Sinclair and Bill Sarai were opposed to the idea.
Future plans for the Stuart Wood school, which sits on Crown land, are to be approved by T’kemlups te Secwempec. According to Christian, the band was asked for their opinion in November, but their letter of support came in two days late. He says even if the letter had been received on time, it might not have changed the vote.
“It may have, but it's a bit of a moot point at this point in time,” Christian says. “That issue has been decided, it’s not going to happen.”
Christian says the details around the decision cannot be shared as it occurred during a closed door meeting.
Pannett says the daycare society was surprised by the decision. She says the relationship between the society and the City had been positive, and she expected the negotiable terms would lead to further discussions. The society offered $24,000 for a year-long lease of the school, a temporary space for operations while they wait to move into their permanent location in June of 2021.
“That’s what we could initially afford with the caveat that everything was negotiable. If that wasn’t right, we were willing to negotiate the price, everything,” Pannett says. “The simple fact of the matter is, I don’t think a space that is that easily suitable exists. Anything that we go into now will require significant renovations, and that’s just the reality we're facing.”
The daycare needs to find a location to meet a specific amount of space and toilets needed per child, as well as offer office and kitchen space. Pannett says the group looked at commercial leases, which would require significant renovations to meet their needs. She says Stuart Wood was the only feasible option that the society identified in the downtown area.
“We went through everything,” Pannett says. “The challenge is that we’re a downtown daycare and we need to stay downtown because that’s where our client base is and it would be such a huge loss to the area.”
The daycare’s current location, adjacent to the Royal Inland Hospital, will soon become a parking lot for the Patient Care Tower project. The group needs to leave the area in less than four months, and Pannett says the parents and 12 staff are growing more and more concerned.
“(The board is) confident because we’re actively working on it. The parents don't have that same level of insight for obvious reasons, so it is very nerve racking… not just parents, but staff as well are nervous," Pannett says. "It doesn’t matter how many times you put the message out there to say we will have something until you can give them actual answers of where you’re going, anxiety will always exist.”
Although the Children’s Circle Daycare proposal was denied, Christian says the City would be interested in looking at hosting other daycares in the school.
“In terms of future uses for Stuart Wood, ultimately we have indicated that we would like to see it as a cultural centre in conjunction with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc. If that doesn’t work, there’s a possibility of course that you could have Stuart Wood as a daycare hub. You could have a number of daycares in there, you could do zero to 12 months, you could do after school care, you could do three to five-year-olds, you could do all kinds of things… there’s a possibility of course that you could reopen it as a school, maybe the private school system would be interested in that.”
Any future usage of the property will have to be discussed with Tk'emlups te Secwepemc. Rosanne Casimir, chief of Tk'emlups te Secwepemc, says they would have supported the proposal, and they will continue working with the City on the matter.
“We had a request from the City of Kamloops for a letter of support for the temporary usage of Stuart Wood for a proposed daycare and I’m just duly noting that we did (provide it), with terms that were attached,” Casimir says. “We’re going to continue our discussions in regards to the property in light of our aboriginal rights, title and interest to the underlying land.”
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