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This article was published 26/1/2015 (1854 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
For years, when things have been relatively quiet at the Sunny Mountain daycare, Debra Page and Claire Ferrer jump in the car and take a real estate cruise.
Page and her second-in-command have known for years their cramped location in a Main Street strip mall was far from ideal. They've eyeballed vacant lots in nearby Garden City, school fields, community clubs, underused parks, even an old funeral home in a bid to finesse a deal for an affordable new location.
'We have to get out of here. The rent for this place will be over $100,000 by the end of next year' — Sunny Mountain executive director Debra Page
Now, those wishful-thinking tours are suddenly desperate. One of the city's best daycares will have to move or close in the next two or three years because of another rent increase. In June, the annual rent on their 6,000-square-foot strip-mall location will increase by $17,000.
"We have to get out of here. The rent for this place will be over $100,000 by the end of next year," said Page, the executive director of Sunny Mountain and its satellite locations. "It's really tough. It scares the parents. I'm scared for the parents."
Sunny Mountain's Main Street location at Leila Avenue provides care for roughly 100 kids, including many low-income ones. Its looming crisis is emblematic of the financial pressures on Winnipeg's patchwork of non-profit daycares that operate close to the bone, where volunteer parent councils are often on the hook for thousands in fundraising each year, sometimes backstop mortgages themselves and struggle to stay solvent despite significant new provincial spending on child care.
Cash is even tighter for daycares paying market rents in commercial locations such as strip malls. Those get the same per-child funding as non-profit daycares located in cheaper spots, such as schools. And because provincial capital funding is focused on building new spaces to alleviate a huge shortage, existing daycares don't qualify for cash to renovate or relocate.
Across town from Sunny Mountain, Rainbow Day Nursery is facing a $100,000 deficit this year, largely because of commercial rents. That's money executive director Diane Hale would much prefer to spend on salaries to keep talented early-childhood educators on staff.
Five of Rainbow's six locations in the Southdale and Island Lakes area are in commercial spots such as strip malls. Rainbow's major landlord, the development firm Ladco, has been excellent to work with, especially in backstopping construction of a new-ish Vermillion Road location. But Hale said more needs to be done for the many centres at the mercy of market-rate rents.
The rent crunch affects non-profit daycares all over Canada, including one high-profile one in Toronto's financial district — its 25-year rent-free lease expired last year. The Scotia Plaza daycare, which serves several lower-income families, will close later this year to make way for a for-profit centre.
Sunny Mountain has a nearly 500-name waiting list for its sites, and Page says it will be disastrous for parents if the Main Street location closes.
Ideally, Sunny Mountain would love to move to a school site in the Seven Oaks or River East Transcona school division. Already, Sunny Mountain has three school-based satellite sites, including one under expansion at Sherwood School in Elmwood.
At school sites, kids can transition more easily into kindergarten, the rent is roughly a quarter of the cost of a commercial site and daycares often don't pay utilities and have access to janitorial services, said Page. Sunny Mountain needs about two baseball diamonds-worth of space, but getting school divisions to agree can be tricky.
Page has a "not if I can help it" attitude about Sunny Mountain's possible closure. She's confident that, in the next couple of years, before Sunny Mountain's finances get too dire, she and her parent board can find a solution.
"Since I became director in 2004 I have been in Sunny Mountain daycare survival mode," said Page. "I've promised Claire I won't retire until we figure it out."
Updated on Monday, January 26, 2015 at 8:45 AM CST: Replaces photo, corrects that rent will increase by $17,000