A recent study has confirmed what parents in the Castlegar-to-Nelson corridor already knew — there is a shortage of childcare spaces in the region.
The Regional District of Central Kootenay commissioned the Columbia Basin Rural Development Institute to look at the feasibility of using community halls in RDCK Area I as childcare spaces and the possibility of developing a government service to support the spaces.
“While a community hall childcare support service is not a traditional service offered by local governments, it is an innovative way to support and repurpose a local community asset and provide a needed service,” according to the report received by the board on Nov. 15.
The feasibility study is just the first step, the RDCK has now commissioned a second study to further look at how the spaces could actually be developed and how a regional district service would work, including taxation options.
The second study will cost $20,000, but the RDCK approved the action contingent on receiving half of that funding from the Columbia Basin Trust.
According to census reports, Area I includes 130 children aged newborn to four years, and 135 children aged five to nine. But childcare services in Area I would likely attract residents from the surrounding areas who commute through the area for work, which is a potential pool of 3,580 children.
Renewal of the community hall and delivery of childcare are not current goals of the RDCK. But Area I director Andy Davidoff says it is something that his area is looking at adding as the Official Community Plan is renewed this year.
The draft version of Area I’s new OCP includes childcare support as a community value.
Davidoff says he wants to see whether it makes sense to support community hall childcare in a not-for-profit manner using a family-participation model supported through taxes.
Davidoff would also like to explore the option of childcare centres that offer care on a 24/7 basis to better suit shift workers.
He says there is a lot of pressure on local governments to support the upgrading of community halls, and many have been upgraded through RDCK grants. Adding daycare spaces to those halls would then give more value to the money that is being spent, he says.
“The point of a community hall is to be the heart of the community,” adds Davidoff. “Once you have something like a daycare there… then all of a sudden you can see how other programs can develop with the community, utilizing the community hall.”
The first study looked at the community halls in Area I, including the Tarrys Community Hall, Glade Community Hall, Shoreacres Community Hall, Pass Creek Community Hall and the Brilliant Cultural Centre. Most of these halls are under-used.
The Pass Creek Hall and the Brilliant Cultural Centre were not interested in the proposal to add childcare spaces to their facilities, but the other three were.
Of the remaining halls, the Tarrys hall seems to be the most likely choice for a future pilot project.
The Tarrys Community Hall Society has been advocating for childcare spaces in the building for some time.
The use of community halls as permanent childcare centres is not very common and presents a list of challenges to overcome.
Hall space is typically used for play groups, or occasional programs where a dedicated space is not required.
The burden of setting up and taking down a childcare centre to accommodate other hall uses is cited in the study as a problem. Building alterations would most likely need to be made to accommodate child care.
Other challenges listed were storage space and outdoor play spaces, which would also be addressed through physical changes to the property, according to the report.
The study identified one major challenge to developing new childcare spaces: the lack of qualified Early Childhood Educators (ECE) in the area to staff the centres.
The report states that without substantial changes to ECE compensation, recruitment and retention will continue to be a problem throughout the province. It also found that some existing child are centres in the region are operating below capacity because they cannot find staff.
Another challenge cited was financial viability. Many childcare operations barely break even and often depend on grants and funding programs to operate.
Davidoff says that he expects the report on the second phase of the study to come out in the early spring.