Prince Edward County’s Newspaper of Record
July 18, 2024
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More Daycare Spots Coming to the County

24 much needed spaces in the works at the Athol Town Hall
<p>Erected in 1870, the Athol Town Hall will soon be home to 24 much needed child care spaces. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)</p>
Erected in 1870, the Athol Town Hall will soon be home to 24 much needed child care spaces. (Jason Parks/Gazette Staff)

Council approved a motion at last week’s Committee of the Whole to enter into an agreement with The Hub Child & Family Centre to lease space in the Athol Town Hall for the next five years.

The agreement allows The Hub to offer care for 24 children aged 30-44 months at the Hall. The organization’s current daycare waitlist across all of its programs is over 400. 

The Hub will upgrade the Hall’s washrooms, install an industrial-grade dishwasher in the kitchen, and create a secure playground at the rear of the building. 

The upgrades will be in lieu of a monthly rental fee for a period of one year. After that, the agreement will be revisted.

Existing users of the Hall, the Cherry Valley branch of the Women’s Institute, and the Athol Recreation Committee, while lauding the idea of new and necessary child care spaces, were concerned they would lose access to the Hall.

Councillor Sam Branderhorst agreed the Town Hall has been the base of operations for both groups. She noted the Cherry Valley Women’s Institute is bringing in new and young members and taking off in new and exciting directions. 

From its famous Ham Suppers to Scrabble tournaments and everything in between, all roads have always led to the Athol Town Hall. 

She also applauded her local Recreation group for their efforts to help build civic pride, pointing to the resurrection of Athol Day as just one example of a host of engaging events the group plans and facilitates annually. 

Councillor Sam Branderhorst. (Supplied Photo)

“But,” said Ms. Branderhorst, “as a sitting member of the Board overseeing Prince Edward Lennox & Addington Social Services, I am painfully aware of the need for more childcare spaces here.” She noted that upper levels of government are not fully meeting their historical responsibilities regarding childcare.

“When outside-the-box ideas like the Hub setting up a satellite program in a Hall that is dark most weekdays come along, the choice is clear,” she said. “We need to act.”

The motion was amended to allow for further consultation between The Hub and the Hall’s other occupants. Councillor Branderhorst noted the amendment sets the stage for further consultation that will foster more outside-the-box solutions for existing and new stakeholders and provide clear language in the lease agreement.

Hub Executive Director Stacey Stanford stated it was the organization’s wish that community groups will still be able to use Athol Town Hall on evenings and weekends.

“We are hoping for support and community engagement at this location. We want this to be a community connection for the children, families and residents of Athol,” she said.

Rebecca Dunning, Leader of the advocacy group PEC Needs Child Care (PECNCC), reminded Council of the organization’s efforts during the last municipal election to raise awareness of the situation local parents face. 

The group’s survey of over 100 parents revealed some could not rejoin the work-force due to a lack of child care. “This is a no brainer,” Ms. Dunning said. “24 children will receive quality early childhood care. As many as 24 parents and caregivers can return to work and households will no longer struggle along with a single income. You are bringing purpose and new life to an underused building.”

“Where do you start with a 400-family wait list?” she asked. “You have to start somewhere and that’s 24 families that will see a member return to the workforce.” During discussion, Councillors Chris Braney and Corey Engelsdorfer noted that the proposed agreement meant the municipality was picking up the childcare football on behalf of the province. 

Councillor Braney applauded the initiative, however. He praised Lisa Lindsay, Director of Community Facilities, for both fostering programming in an under-used town hall and addressing a pressing community need.

The amended motion passed unanimously.

A finalized draft agreement is expected to come before Council June 25. Following ratification, The Hub will begin on capital improvements to the grounds, washrooms and kitchen, aiming for a September launch date.

This text is from the Volume 194 No. 22 edition of The Picton Gazette
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