Loss of St. Mike’s daycare is still felt

Students at Wilfrid Laurier University have noticed the gaping hole where St. Michael’s school once stood and the Global Innovation and Exchange is slated to be built. With the demolishment of St. Mike’s came the closure of the Abwunza daycare that left many families in the Laurier community upset with the university and distressed about where to send their children.

Pamela Cant, WLU’s human resources director, said that the daycare had 49 children registered when it closed on Aug. 26, 2011, and that “there was a letter dated July, 6, 2011 that was sent from the YMCA to the families at the Abwunza daycare center advising them of the closing.”

The parents of the children were left scrambling to find alternate daycare arrangements. While the families understood that the daycare closure was inevitable Cant said, “ [They were] disappointed in the closing and were obviously concerned about being able to find alternate arrangements in time for the closing.”

Nickie Wiles, the Abwunza daycare supervisor indicated that the families were more than merely disappointed. “They were angry with Laurier… parents, particularly faculty, were very frustrated because, from what I understand from what I was told, it was part of their union contract that there would be onsite childcare.”

According to the full-time faculty collective agreement, the university must provide a daycare program at the current location (St. Mike’s) or another on-campus location.
Discussing the demographics of the families involved, Wiles said, “We had about 50/50 community and Laurier, either staff or students, mostly staff.” Wiles said that generally about ten student families were using the Abwunza daycare during fall and winter terms.

Recounting the decision to close the daycare, Cant said, “We received a substantial funding from the government to build the Global Innovation and Exchange Center, and the desired location for that center was the St Michael’s school location.”

Wiles explained that a few families did experience an increase in childcare costs as a result of the Abwunza daycare closure. Approximately 90 per cent of the families using Abwunza daycare were placed in another YMCA childcare and did not experience a cost increase. However, Wiles said the select families that moved to community daycare centers ”brought to my attention that the fees in the community were so much higher than ours.”

The YMCA and Laurier did help parents that needed to find alternative daycare. Cant explained, “What we discussed with the Y was that they had the resources and the knowledge to best assist the families in finding alternate care.”

Debbie Hoekstra, the VP community services for the K-W YMCA, said, “We actually met with every parent and found out what their needs were… and then the Abwunza staff team and the supervisor charted out what everybody was looking for, and started to then look at what openings and opportunities the YMCA had for them that were either close to their workplace or close to their home.”

“We helped them basically jump the wait list and get right in… This was an extenuating circumstance that we were dealing with, and we were able to get people right in.”

Hoekstra added, “The majority of [the families] went to another YMCA childcare that we have in the community, and then a few others went to some other community providers as well.”

Hoekstra additionally clarified that the Abwunza staff did not lose their jobs as a result of the closure.

When asked how she felt when the daycare closed, Wiles said, “Sad; it was where I started my career with the Y… it was home for me and so many of our families and my staff.”

Fortunately for students and staff, Laurier is looking for a new daycare facility. Cant said, “University administration has been working closely with the Y and also with the various employee groups on campus to come up with an alternative solution to meet the community’s needs for childcare services. So we’re in the process right now of trying to identify a suitable alternate location for the daycare that would be in close proximity to the Waterloo Campus.”

Wiles, for one, will look forward to the new childcare center with anticipation. “I would love to [go back]. Laurier was great to me.”

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