The Into the Woods Early Learning Studio is currently still under construction near the Qualicum Beach Community Park.
The Town of Qualicum Beach was awarded nearly $2 million in 2019 by the Ministry of Children and Family Development New Spaces Fund and the Community Child Care Space Creation Program to build the studio, that will create 37 much-needed child care spaces. There is a shortage of spaces in the community and in District 69 as a whole.
Construction began in 2021 with the goal of opening the studio in September 2022. But it has encountered delays due to COVID-19 and high inflation that has resulted in escalating construction costs.
The initial cost of the project was estimated at $1,996,724 in 2019 but that was increased to $2,271,724 last April 2022. The amount has spiked again as staff indicated extra funds are needed to cover items such as landscaping, furniture and appliances to allow the studio to operate. Town council, at its regular meeting on Sept. 21, voted to increase the capital budget by another $143,276, bringing the project cost up to $2,415,000. With the additional funding allocated staff indicated the town has now invested close to $500,000 to the project, has provided the land, and also afforded in-kind staff resources.
Coun. Robert Filmer said the town has been backed in a corner with no choice. He pointed out the town agreed to take on the project with the caveat that it would not cost the town any money.
Mayor Brian Wiese warned the next council about getting into a situation like this.
“No cost to the town is the biggest misnomer I’ve ever heard,” said Wiese. “So in the future, no cost to the town should even be considered.”
Filmer also made a motion for staff to produce an exact timeline of the project from start to end to find out where things went awry. Council passed the motion unanimously.
Coun. Anne Skipsey also made a successful motion to get staff to work with the province to find the solution to cover the estimated capital project funding shortfall.
Into the Woods Society, a non-profit group that was chosen to oversee and operate the studio, has requested the town for an operational startup loan of $65,000. The funds will be used to hire an executive director, who will lay out the studio’s operations and guidelines, as well as begin the recruiting of staff for when the facility opens.
Council rejected the society’s request at an in camera meeting which leaves the opening of the studio up in the air. Filmer said the decision was made because town has already injected almost a half-million dollars that has not been budgeted for.
Skipsey pointed out this would not be an added to cost to the town because the money is for a start-up loan that the society intends to pay back over time.
Coun. Scott Harrison argued the town does not provide funds for staff for non-profit and other organizations and repayment over time.
Kate Charlesworth of Into the Woods Society said the town has a history of providing loans through the Municipal Finance Authority Money Market Fund to other organizations such as the Qualicum Beach Lawn Bowling Club, Qualicum Beach Memorial Golf Club and the Qualicum Beach Museum.
“We need initial funds to get going,” said Charlesworth. “As a non-profit society, we can’t go to a bank. They’re not going to loan us the money.”
The 2016 census for child population indicated Qualicum Beach has approximately 225 child care spaces, which is not enough to accommodate 485 children in the community.
Lindsay Henderson has two children and has been trying to get them in daycare centres. She is still on the wait lists for a spot to open at three daycares in Qualicum Beach, Parksville and Coombs. She is disappointed with the town’s position.
“Childcare funding should be at or near the top of the priority list,” said Henderson.
“To deal a further blow by denying funding to a desperately needed children centre is not only disappointing, it’s short-sighted.”