Prominent East Vancouver daycare to close its doors despite $42K grant
A high-profile East Vancouver daycare that anxious parents thought had been saved from closing is shutting its doors after all, despite receiving tens of thousands of dollars from taxpayers.
Parents were first told back in June that the Phil Bouvier Family Centre daycare would be closing in July, citing financial "problems and hardships."
But within weeks, the City of Vancouver came through with a $42,000-grant so that Angela Giannoulis and 48 other parents who rely on the centre wouldn't have to make other child care arrangements.
"It felt really great that we were being heard finally after so long," Giannoulis, whose three-year-old son Niko attends the daycare, told CTV News.
The daycare's operator, Vancouver Native Health Society, said the money would keep the centre going until new provincial initiatives aimed at offsetting costs for daycare operators come into effect in September.
These include an opt-in program for licensed child care providers that could cut as much as $350 a month from the cost of a daycare space.
But just weeks after the grant was announced, parents learned the Phil Bouvier daycare still planned to close.
The news sparked outcry and confusion among parents who fear they'll be left scrambling to find child care in a city where families can be forced to wait years just for a space to open up.
"How is this happening?" Giannoulis said. "We just got funding on July 10."
In a statement to CTV News, the city explained that the money has not been transferred to the centre because VNHS has not met the conditions of the grant, which include an updated budget for 2018 and a transition plan for the centre, located on Princess Avenue in the Strathcona neighbourhood.
"The City of Vancouver continues to work with the building owner, Central City Foundation (CCF), to ensure the 49 licensed childcare spaces at the Phil Bouvier childcare centre are maintained," the statement read. "Unfortunately the City is unable to release funds without this information."
Municipal staff said they are also asking CCF to "confirm its commitment to maintaining a minimum of 49 licensed child care spaces" at the centre or pay back the $200,000 it was granted a decade ago.
CCF wouldn't answer CTV's questions about the looming closure directly, saying only that it is "committed to supporting the community and we continue to work with VNHS to allow them to fulfill their mandate to serve Indigenous families in the inner city."
The centre's first closure came just days after 37 of its employees moved to become part of the British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union.
"This seems to be a pattern from them to announce closures," union president Stephanie Smith said Wednesday, but would not go as far as to call the most recent announcement a bargaining tactic.
"There's no mechanism for the union to stop the employer from shutting the place down," she added.
She said outside the bargaining process, the union is also working to do everything it can keep the centre open and to support the families affected.
The Ministry of Children and Family Development also added its voice to the mix Wednesday, but offered no concrete solution to the impending shutdown of the daycare centre.
"The ministry has been working closely with the City of Vancouver and other partners across government to offer a solution that will allow the centre to continue their operations," a ministry spokesperson said.
VNHS said its executive director was "on vacation" and did not comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, Giannoulis has had to come up with a backup plan because of all the uncertainty, but said the daycare will not go down without a fight from parents, adding that the non-profit is a pillar of diversity in the community and most parents don't have other options.
"This cannot happen," she said. "Not on my watch."
It's unclear, however, what options parents have left as long as VNHS does not meet the conditions of the grant in time.
With files from CTV Vancouver's David Molko