About Blackburn Hamlet Preschool
Blackburn Hamlet Preschool (BHPS) is a co-operative non-profit organization providing early learning programs to foster the social, emotional, physical and cognitive development of young children. BHPS was created in 1971 by parents who desired to establish a parent-directed preschool program in their neighbourhood. Since that time, BHPS has continued to operate as a partnership between parents and teachers, operating half-day programming for children aged 1.5 to 6 years on a not-for-profit basis. Parents are active participants in their children’s learning, as duty parents in the classroom, and as volunteers in the operation and governance of the Preschool. Since BHPS’s inception, the active involvement of families has been the defining characteristic of the program and foundation of the organizations longevity and success. The Preschool serves as a point of initial interaction for young families in the community, strengthening the community through increased interaction, connection, involvement, and volunteerism.
Issues and Changes in the Childcare Sector
The childhood education sector has been in transition since 2010 when the Government of Ontario commenced a plan to modernize child care and early learning. The two primary components of the modernization plan were the introduction of full-day kindergarten for 4- and 5-year-olds and new legislation for the child-care sector. These changes have had a profound impact on the early learning and child care sector generally, and non-profit preschools and nursery schools in particular. Adapting to the new framework, given the scope and pace of the changes, has been particularly challenging for non-profits given their limited financial and human resources. Early learning centres like BHPS are faced with dual pressures. Due to reduced teacher-child ratios, training required for parent helpers, and further administrative costs, expenses have increased. And with most 4- and 5-year-olds in full-day kindergarten, revenue has significantly decreased.
Since the changes have been introduced, a number of child care providers and preschools/nursery schools in Ottawa have closed as they were unable adjust their operations to the new requirements and remain viable. A number of other preschool and nursery schools have increased their fees, increased staff, decreased spaces, and/or eliminated the co-operative parent-helper model. As a result, there is a trend toward fewer affordable spaces in Ottawa for families looking for part-time early-learning programming for their children.
BHPS Relocation History
In December of 2014, BHPS was notified that the City of Ottawa would not be renewing its lease. The decision to decommission the structure had been made following a City audit of the costs of maintaining and repairing the aging structure. Additionally, removing the building would create space for a future expansion of the Blackburn arena. BHPS immediately commenced searching for a new location, but it was impossible to find a new home in the 6-month timeframe provided. BHPS responded with a public relations campaign, alerting past and present parents, local politicians, and the community at large about the impending closure of the school. Thanks to the community’s reaction and through the influence of our city councilor, the school was granted a reprieve on its lease. The city gave BHPS a list of issues that would need to be addressed immediately. Repairs and improvements were promptly made by the preschool, and the city extended the lease by two years. At lease-end, however, BHPS would need both a new location and a new building because ministerial spacing requirements for preschools had changed. BHPS had been grandfathered-in at its current location, but a larger facility would be required once the preschool moved.
The Board of Directors created the Location 2017 Committee, which was given the task of finding a new home for the preschool. The committee investigate all available options.
- BHPS explored partnering with a local grade school. However, fluctuating grade school enrolment meant that long-term space for the preschool was not guaranteed, and significant retrofit costs would be required in order to meet operating requirements.
- BHPS was advised that space could be set aside in the expanded Blackburn Community Centre. However, the expansion project remains in early conceptual phases and would not provide a solution prior to the end of the preschool’s lease.
- BHPS explored purchasing its own land where a new facility could be built. Unfortunately, no local, suitably-zoned land was identified – and issues of availability aside, the combined expense of both the land and the building would be enormously expensive
While these solutions proved unfeasible, another option remained. BHPS approached Just Food, a local farm cooperative, to explore whether the school could relocate to their property. Both organizations agreed that a partnership would be a good fit. For Just Food, a learning facility would support their educational mandate, and for BHPS, the location would provide an ideal setting, where farming and nature elements could be directly incorporated into the school's curriculum. The new proposed facility – named the Green's Creek Learning Centre – would be a shared-used, multipurpose educational facility, with space for current partners and the community.
- After exploring a number of building solutions, the Committee selected a used modular structure as the best building solution, as it provides to be the most cost-effective, eco-friendly option.
- To raise the startup funds required for the project, the Blackburn Hamlet Preschool Fund was launched. Through the assistance of the Community Foundation of Ottawa, the Fund allows for the collection and incubation of donations, and all donors will receive charitable receipts.
- BHPS approached Just Food, a non-profit organization operating the Just Food Farm, to explore whether the school could relocate to their property. Both organizations agreed that a partnership would be a good fit. For Just Food, an educational centre would support their educational mandate, and for BHPS, the location would provide an ideal setting where farming and nature elements could be directly incorporated into the school's curriculum. The new proposed facility - named the Green's Creek Learning Center - would be a shared-use, multipurpose educational centre, with space for current partners and the community.
· As the Just Food farm is a lease-holder of NCC land, the NCC has been fully briefed through them on the project from inception to the current date, with initial feedback being positive. In September, the formal land use application was submitted, and the NCC is now conducting their review.