The Vic West Community Centre will be the site of a new pilot project to help create more childcare spaces in the community.
In a unanimous vote at a committee of the whole meeting on Thursday, City councillors agreed to assist the Victoria West Community Association in exploring upgrades and enhancements to its centre at 521 Craigflower Rd. to help with a growing need for childcare options.
“The City needs to be a place where families can thrive,” said Coun. Jeremy Loveday. “We often talk about the need for affordable housing, but childcare is another big part to make it a place that families can stay and work and grow.”
The decision comes after nearly three years of advocacy from the association to find more child care options.
“Childcare matters have become more and more desperate over time,” said its president, Justine Semmens. “Now we have a three-year waiting list and we’ve stopped taking names because there’s no point, they’ll be aged out by the time they’re called.”
Semmens noted that problems were exacerbated in the past year when nearby daycare operations shifted.
The Victoria Montessori Preschool had to relocate to Esquimalt to accommodate larger elementary school class sizes, and Babies to Big Kids, a nearby daycare accepting a wide age range, abruptly closed its doors on June 30.
“We’ve been brainstorming all kinds of ideas … But at each step we’ve faced barriers, particularly with the City running into problems with the capacity of own building,” Semmens said. “With the space we have now, we can’t physically expand our programs.”
The City has decided a portable building would be the best option for the time being.
“The first step is looking at getting a modular childcare space that we can put next to the community centre,” Loveday said.
The portable would be one of two designs: either one large space, or two smaller spaces side by side.
Semmens hopes the expansion could offer room for at least 40 more children.
“We’re also tossing around the idea to use it as a daycare during day, and in the evening use it for the community,” she said. “Our community centre is actually the busiest in town next to Crystal Pool in terms of recreation programs, so the only thing stopping us from offering more is physical space.”
Now with the support of the City, which owns the community centre building, the association has the resources it needs to apply for provincial funding to expand their space. The City will also provide funds, but an exact amount will be determined after the provincial application has been accepted.
“What’s really important about establishing Vic West as a pilot project is that we’ll work with the City and the province, and hopefully become a blueprint for other communities that are facing a similar problem,” Semmens said. “The City in some way is breaking their teeth on us.”
At this point dates have not been set, but all involved parties are hoping the expansion project gets rolling soon.
“I don’t know the timeline of when the provincial funding will be available, hopefully it will be soon, but the idea is for us to be 100 per cent ready at the front of the line when that funding becomes available,” Loveday said.