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Parents scrambling as time runs out for Markham daycare

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Monsebraaten, Laurie
Publication Date: 
27 Jul 2015



A non-profit daycare that has operated out of Markham Civic Centre for 25 years has three months to find a new home after negotiations with the city soured earlier this spring.

“The city says they need the space. I get that. But they haven’t given me a realistic time frame,” said Anna Iacono, director of TLC (Town’s Little Children) Daycare.

“It can take a year or more with renovations and all of the education ministry requirements,” she said.

The 57-space daycare, which serves infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers, was built with more than $500,000 in provincial and municipal funds as an integral part of the civic centre, which opened in 1990.

The daycare is always full and has a long waiting list of parents desperate to enroll their kids, Ianoco said.

But the centre’s 25-year lease expires Sept. 30, and it has until the end of October to vacate the premises.

Ianoco says she has been trying to get a commitment for a new lease from the city for two years. In July 2014, city staff said they could not make a firm commitment on a renewal, and this January, officials said the space was needed for municipal employees.

But despite ongoing negotiations with the daycare over alternative locations, it wasn’t until April this year that Markham city council voted in a closed-door session to end discussions.

A city spokesman said the municipality has been more than generous with the daycare over the years, paying its utility costs until 2003 and charging just $200 a month in rent. Since January, city staff has worked with the daycare to identify “almost a dozen” city-owned and commercial properties, Dennis Flaherty said in an email to the Star Monday.

“Despite the fact that a number of these locations were viable sites for a daycare centre, it is our understanding that the TLC board of directors did not consider them to be appropriate,” he said.

Iacono said the only truly viable site was Warden House, a city-owned heritage property near the civic centre. But the renovation costs, including the city’s insistence that the daycare pay the cost of connecting the property to the municipal sewer system, were prohibitive.

As for TLC’s low rent, she said the daycare will have to pay at least $7,000 a month in any new location and would be more than willing to pay that much in a renewed lease at the civic centre.

(More than 300 non-profit centres in Toronto public schools pay no rent under an agreement that sees that municipality cover daycare occupancy costs in schools, she notes.)

Iacono is also upset the city has denied the daycare’s plea for a lease extension until September 2016 to buy more time and ensure current families can make alternative arrangements.

“We have been told they won’t consider a lease extension unless we can secure a suitable property first,” Ianoco said. “They are making it impossible for us to continue.”

In the past year, several commercial landlords in Toronto have tried to evict non-profit daycares built in the 1990s with public funds when their long-term leases have expired. But this is believed to be one of the first cases of a municipality evicting an independent, non-profit daycare.

“This is a city. They are supposed to be public sector and help out the public,” Ianoco said.

Elise Ho-Foong, whose 4-year-old twins have been at the centre since they were 2, was scheduled to enroll her 15-month-old baby, Aubrey, at the daycare in September.

“We chose TLC because my husband works at the civic centre, and it is on my way to work,” said the engineering company consultant. “Now I’m not sure what we’ll do.”

Although the twins will move to full-day kindergarten in the fall and she has a babysitter on standby for Aubrey, Ho-Foong is disappointed her baby may not get the same enriching opportunity as her older sisters.

“It is an amazing centre. The staff have all been there forever and (the twins) have learned so much,” she said.

In a letter to Mayor Frank Scarpitti, who cut the ribbon on the daycare when it opened a generation ago, the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care implored the city to save the centre.

“Child care services are a key part of our municipal infrastructure in Ontario,” said coalition’s co-ordinator Carolyn Ferns. “We urge the city of Markham to work to ensure that TLC Daycare can continue to provide these much needed benefits to local families.”

The mayor was not available for comment.

-reprinted from Toronto Star