Having taken occupancy of the space on Monday, the new operators of a daycare operation at Elmira’s Riverside Public School are in the midst of a big push to open the doors on September 7.
“There’s a lot that we need to accomplish in that one week – we are being very optimistic in hoping that we’ll be able to have everything complete for the 7th, but that is what we’re aiming for,” said Colleen Lehnen, executive director of Jacob Hespeler Child Care Centres.
The Cambridge-based non-profit organization was chosen to run the facility in the wake of the Region of Waterloo’s decision last year to close all five of the daycare facilities it operates, including the Elmira Children’s Centre.
Now, Lehnen and her team are busy preparing the space in time for the start of the school year after being selected as the new operator by the Waterloo Region District School Board.
“We met with the families last week; we held a Zoom meeting, and we had 88 families who are registered with our organization on the call and we’ve updated them that that was the date that we’re aiming for, but we did lay out some of the obstacles and the issues that we have to accomplish during that week… so we strongly recommended that they have a backup plan in place should we not be able to meet the target of the 7th,” she said.
“For Elmira there will be 10 infant spaces, there will be 20 toddler spaces and there will be 32 preschool spaces. So, 62 within the centre, and we have filled them all. We’re down to just a few part-time spaces available here and there. We have an extensive waitlist for people that are wanting start dates at a later time,” said Lehnen of the response to the new operation.
“In the before- and after-school program which we run as a partner with the school board, we take all children that register for the before and after. So, that program continues to grow as people over the last couple of weeks and will do over the next few weeks, as they’re deciding if they want to send their children back to a licensed program once school starts, or if they are wanting to do something different. I think COVID plays into that – people are a little bit apprehensive still with COVID.”
The childcare operators have had to take on extensive new cleaning procedures and screening protocols due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. Their new screening process has helped them identify two children with COVID symptoms prior to them attending the daycare, so they couldn’t spread it amongst other children. The childcare facilities have been operating without any outbreaks. Their screening process requires parents and educators to virtually log information into their COVID website to be looked at by their screeners that morning to determine if the children or educators were able to attend.
“Families have been very diligent in following the procedures that are put out and being onboard with following the procedures and the protocols that we have. And if everyone follows them, they do work relatively well,” Lehnen noted.
She has been working with Jacob Hespeler Child Care Centres since 1986, when a college field placement put her with the organization, adding she immediately loved working there.
“We were selected for Elmira for this location; they came to us and said that the lease was ending with the Region of Waterloo, that they had the space available and that they were looking for an organization, [saying] ‘we did the research and thought that it would be a good fit for us.’”
The region closed the Elmira centre on August 20, clearing out the space ahead of the new operator arriving on August 30. The rush is on now to complete the renovations.
“We’ve tried to design the spaces with lots of neutral colors, a lot of greenery, wood-tone materials versus primary fluorescent colors and plastic. We try to use a lot of layered materials that have different textures,” said Lehnen
“There definitely was a need in this community, and we really liked the hub design of the childcare being connected with the school with also having other organizations having space in the school as well. Currently there is an Early On centre, they are upstairs as well. There’s a meeting space, so it had a real community feel.”
Lehnen noted that there is a shortage of daycare spaces in the region. Many parents choose to sign up for childcare services with the operators as early as pregnancy. She admits this has become a normal practice as spaces fill up fast.
“There is a shortage of childcare centres in our region, which is not just limited to this region – there is a shortage of licensed spaces and so there is a process and it does take time to get in.”
The new Elmira location for Jacob Hespler Child Care Centres is set to start September 7, with many parents from the previously operating facility already signed up.