Yellowknife's biggest daycare provider plans to open an additional 30 after-school spaces – at a neighbouring building – as childcare in the city remains at a premium.
The Yellowknife Daycare Association's new 52 Street building, which opened last year, is at capacity according to City of Yellowknife documents.
The association is now looking to open a satellite facility at the St Patrick Parish Hall for after-school programming on 53 Street. The expansion would allow the association to care during after-school hours for 30 more children.
In November, the daycare association told Cabin Radio it had more than 170 children on its waitlist. The association's president, Ryan Fequet, said by email on Friday the daycare would "use the Parish Hall for an after-school program to help meet the needs of the many families who are without adequate care."
Fequet said councillors had previously approved a separate use of the same location for a summer camp program "to assist with the dire need in the city."
The area where the parish hall is located is zoned as residential low-density, which allows this form of childcare as a conditionally permitted use – meaning council must formally approve the Yellowknife Daycare Association's plan.
City documents suggest council approval is likely to be straightforward. A briefing note for councillors states the roughly 100-metre walk between the two facilities forms a "pedestrian-friendly connection" with well-maintained sidewalks and a four-way stop.
The association's current location, on 52 Street, is roughly 100 metres' walking distance from its proposed satellite facility on 53 Street. City of Yellowknife map
The pickup and drop-off area will be on parish hall property, though most pickup and drop-off will still happen at the current 52 Street premises.
Parking and a potential change to the local speed limit would be reviewed as part of the ordinary permitting process.
The expanded after-school plan comes amid a continuing need for new childcare spaces of all forms in Yellowknife. The lack of full daycare capacity, for example, was highlighted in November last year, when a Niven daycare closed its doors with only two weeks' notice.
Forty daycare spaces were lost when Kids Corner shut its doors citing "financial strain and staffing problems." One parent called the closure at such short notice, leaving parents scrambling and staff out of work just before Christmas, "disgusting."
The Yellowknife Daycare Association currently looks after 104 children, Fequet said.
'We don't have a back-up plan'
Yellowknife parents are placing themselves on waitlists for childcare services even before their children are born, one mother told Cabin Radio in November.
"I'm seven months pregnant. I was already putting my new baby on the waitlist for this daycare, but now I have to find another," Christina Leeson said.
Her two-year-old attended Kids Corner before it closed. "This town, for kids under two, it's so hard to find daycare. Once you find out you're pregnant, you go on a waitlist, otherwise, you're not going to get daycare," she said.
New mom Shannon Crawley told Cabin Radio this week she got onto a waitlist at the daycare association when she was around seven months pregnant. She and her partner have also been looking into day homes as she eyes her back-to-work date, 12 or so months from now.
"It is a priority for us because we don't have the family network here that could provide that support if it didn't work out," said Crawley.
"I think that's something a lot of us struggle with, and we don't necessarily have a back-up plan."
Daycare is not only important for current residents of the city.
While plans to construct a polytechnic university in the NWT are in their infancy, a study commissioned by the City said the municipality needs to make sure there are adequate supports, including daycare, for incoming students.
A lack of daycare facilities was also a challenge for recruiting and retaining students cited in the 2018 Aurora College Foundational Review.
The Yellowknife Daycare Association's facility on 52 Street. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Mayor and council will discuss whether to approve the expansion at a committee meeting on Monday.
Clarification: August 9, 2019 –16:44 MT. The Yellowknife Daycare Association said a City of Yellowknife briefing document stating the new facility "will allow the association to care for an additional 30 children" failed to specify that the association's plan refers only to after-school programming. It has no plans to open additional full daycare spaces. This report has been updated accordingly.