wrtwbr · 2021-08-31

Board to sell daycare site

As one soon-to-be displaced daycare struggles to pin down funds for a new building, another is set to lose its long-time home.

The public school board on Wednesday voted to surplus and sell off a historic Coldwater Street building that has been home to Orillia Central Preschool since 1985.

Housed within an imposing heritage building, the operation serves 75 children daily and more than 100 families.

More than 100 others are on a waiting list.

“Frankly, it is a crisis,” program supervisor Shannon Daggett said in advance of the vote.

Board chair Diane Firman said the building was “no longer required and needed by the board for educational purposes.”

An alternative-learning program operated by the school board on the building’s upper floor would be relocated, she added.

Various educational institutions and government organizations will be given an opportunity to make a bid the building over a 90-day period, as would the municipality.

After that, it would be offered to the general public, Firman said.

The preschool would have 90 days to relocate after the building’s sale, which could take two or more years depending on the level of interest, she added.

“We are not looking to turf them out at all,” she said. “That is not the intention. We care about kids.”

Daggett was urging board officials to help “us keep our home.

“That said, we are now in the process of looking for another space that we could move to very quickly if we are forced to leave …,” she added.

Constructing a new building is not an option, she said.

“Heaven forbid if we have to build from the ground up,” she added. “We are a non-profit organization, so it is not like we have a bankroll. It is not financially feasible to carry a mortgage. It would be crippling to us.”

Firman said a new school at the Lions Oval would house a daycare, adding that Orillia Central Preschool could bid on the tender to operate it.

Two other schools already house daycares, she said.

Firman supported the recommendation by a facilities committee to sell the property.

“I believe it is in the best interest of the board to relocate our (alternative learning) students elsewhere,” she said.

Concern over the potential sell off comes just as officials at Treasure Island Daycare Centre struggle to secure funds for a new facility.

Officials in January garnered a provincial commitment to assist with the cost of relocating the non-profit program, months after learning the operation was being pushed out of OPP General Headquarters.

Nine weeks later, the province has yet to confirm the board’s business plan, chair Scott Beaumont said in a mass e-mail.

Unless approval is given by March 31, developer Angelo Orsi cannot construct the new building in time for a September opening, Beaumont said.

“Families with children currently enrolled are losing confidence in the centre’s viability and have placed their names on other centres’ waitlists ‘just in case,’” he added. “However, due to the shortage of child care spaces in the Orillia area, they are unlikely to be able to make alternate arrangements.”

Added Daggett:

“You are looking at 240 families if both of us were to close.”

The impending closure of Orillia Central Preschool concerns Mayor Ron Stevens, who called it “rather unnerving.”

However, Stevens said his hands were tied, as the matter was a provincial one.

“We can do very little,” he said. “It is a lease arrangement between the school board and the preschool.”

Stevens would not comment on Treasure Island as three of his grandchildren attend the Memorial Avenue daycare.

Daggett noted that close to half of the spaces at Orillia Central Preschool are subsidized.

The preschool serves children ranging in age from four weeks to five-and-a-half years, and receives some provincial funding for wage subsidies.