With a request from the Niagara Nursery School for additional funding of $340,000 for its expansion, executive director Candice Penny was at council Monday to talk about how important the project is for the nursery school, the community, and the families whose children are on a long waiting list.
It wasn’t a hard sell. Despite the hefty increase, which raised some concerns with council, support for moving ahead with the project was unanimous. The nursery school expansion is a good investment in local families and children, necessary infrastructure and a benefit to the town, councillors agreed.
In June, 2019, a 4,308 square foot facility was approved at a cost of $1.5 million, to be added to the east side of the community centre, beside the library, and with the main entrance on Anderson Lane. The facility will include an infant playroom with a kitchenette and a separate sleeping area, a toddler playroom, a preschool playroom with adjacent washrooms and changerooms, and a school-aged room, in addition to office and storage spaces.
But the project has gone out to tender twice since then, while the yellow tape remains around the closed-off, eventual construction site for the expansion, and the cost has increased to just over $2 million.
The Town has already increased its contribution once, due to increased costs. With the new budget to cover the short fall approved Monday, it will go out for tender a third time, councillors heard.
The nursery school is committed to a $615,000 debenture and a $100,000 fundraising campaign. If the fundraising goal is not met, the NNS can increase their debenture to cover the outstanding amount, but can’t afford more than that, Penny told councillors. Without the increased commitment from the Town, the project would not go forward.
The $2 million will also be funded by a Ministry of Education grant of $515,000, and $200,000 from the Region. The Town had already committed about $248,900 to be paid from development charges.
Niagara Nursery School has been a part of the community for 48 years, serving multiple generations, and over the decades has relocated and adapted to changing needs of the families, Penny told councillors.
“Since approximately 2015, we have seen a serge in childcare needs in our community that we have since been unable to meet on a yearly basis,” she said. “We are the only licensed childcare centre in our town, and the average wait time for a child is two to three years. Families who have children of varying ages often must have children in multiple childcare settings, and often must drive out of town, away from their home and work to receive childcare.”
The current waitlist is up to 142 children, from infants to school-aged children, Penny said. The NNS is only licensed under the Ministry of Education for a total of 39 children, 24 preschool, and 15 of school age. With families requiring variable schedules, the nursery school can accommodate 45 to 52 children, and about 35 to 40 families.
The expansion would allow for 69 children, and again, with variable schedules, would serve 80 to 89 families, she said.
“This expansion will not eliminate our waitlist, but it will drastically reduce it, as well as the average wait-time,” said Penny.
“We simply cannot meet the needs of our community as we are now. This expansion is crucial for not only the families in our community, but also for the growth of our community as a whole,” she said. “This is not a family issue, this is a community and economic issue. For local growth to be possible, we need this to be a desired place for families to live, and have a childcare centre that can meet the needs of its community.”
In response to a question from Coun. Wendy Cheropita about considering changes in design or relocating the expansion to the other side of the community centre to reduce the cost, acting operations director Kevin Turcotte explained those options weren’t feasible — it would cost more to go back to the drawing board to change the plans, much of the preliminary work for the site has already been done, and there are no “frills” in the plan to cut back, whether on space or design. Altering the project now would also require going back to the Ministry of Education, he added. “Changing it or moving it is not a good use of resources,” Turcotte said.
Coun. Sandra O’Connor expressed her concern that with the increase approved and the project going out for a third tender, there could be “a significant increase in cost, and we’ll be having this same discussion a few months from now.”
“If COVID has taught us anything, it’s taught us unpredictability, including in the cost of construction,” said Turcotte. “We won’t know until we go out to the market.”
With the project going out to tender again, interim CAO Sheldon Randall suggested there is a possibility that the cost of lumber and other supplies, which have greatly increased during the pandemic, might come down this winter and be a benefit to the project.
Coun. Erwin Wiens said although he endorses the project, he doesn’t see the price of lumber and other supplies decreasing. “I suspect they may go up even higher. I want to make sure we have our eyes wide open that because of COVID, that price may go up even higher.”
The Ministry of Education has granted an extension for the project to March 31, 2021, with a closing date of the project by Aug. 31, 2021.