Prince George’s newest childcare centre is ready to open and welcome children through its doors in March.
The new YMCA Park House Care and Early Learning Centre will address the city’s critical need for childcare spaces in the downtown core.
It’s located across from City Hall next to the Park House condominiums and will be operated by the Northern BC YMCA.
In 2020, the Province of BC and the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) announced they were supporting the City of Prince George in the project, which includes 85 new childcare spaces.
There are 25 group childcare spaces for ages 30 months to school age, 48 school-age spaces, and 12 infant and toddler spaces.
“This is the greatest need across the province for this age group,” said Lynette Mikalishen, YMCA of Northern B.C.‘s director of childcare services on a tour of the infant and toddler room.
“Many, many children and parents looking to go back to work are looking for care for their young children so we are excited to be able to offer 12 additional spaces in the community and to start to move some people off of our waitlist.”
Data collected by city staff for the city’s Childcare Action Plan has revealed a high-degree of need or increased childcare spaces for all age groups, but particularly for infant, toddler, and school age care.
Families reported experiencing significant difficulty in accessing care according to their specific needs, with downtown spaces and spaces in the Hart neighbourhood being particularly hard to secure.
Mikalishen said the new spaces available at Park House will be filled gradually from the current wait list.
“We are going to start to meet community needs little by little,” she said as both COVID-19 and a Canada-wide shortage of Early Childcare Educators (ECEs) across Canada have impacted the organization’s staffing levels.
“We will keep moving in people off our waitlist as we have the staff and capacity to do that and in a safe way.”
Mikalishen noted the need for childcare in Prince George is so great that some families have been waitlisted for more than two years.
“Quite honestly we tell people the moment you know you are expecting or think you are expecting the families should go on the waitlist,” said Mikalishen.
“It’s really challenging and super impactful for predominantly women who are trying to go back into the workforce and back into their careers and it really creates inequality in lots and lots of ways.”
On time and on budget
The city contracted a local company, Colliers Project Leaders, to manage the project.
This was among 10 actions taken by council following the completion of the Park House parkade, which was completed roughly $10 million over budget.
The $3.6 million project itself was made possible thanks to the city's successful $3 million grant application to the Province's Childcare BC New Spaces Fund and the city also received $1 million through the Union of BC Municipalities Community (UBCM) Child Care Space Creation.
Construction began in April 2021 and was completed on time and on budget.
The brand-new centre is bright, spacious, and was designed to support early learning through the YMCA national curriculum, “Playing to Learn,” through a stimulating, accessible, and home-like environment.
Colliers project manager Tino Mbara said they worked collaboratively with the YMCA to make sure the design met the needs for a childcare centre.
“For example, some of the things they mentioned was sound migration from room to room, kids are noisy, so we were able to insulate each room and sound proof it and so we don’t have that migration,” he noted.
“It came in right on budget and on time and it is pretty good for our first project with the city. We are happy with it.”
More childcare spaces on the way
In addition, construction is starting this year on a new childcare facility at 6776 Dagg Rd. in the Hart that will feature 60 spaces.
This facility will be operated by the Prince George Native Friendship Centre and is expected to open this summer.
Chris Bone, the city’s manager of social development, said the Hart Highway was one of the areas identified that has the greatest childcare needs.
“We are also excited about this because one of the other things the childcare needs assessment talked about was the need for culturally sensitive and culturally appropriate childcare for Indigenous families with Indigenous curriculum and Indigenous role models built into the curriculum and operation,” said Bone.
“While it won’t solely be limited to Indigenous children it will have that cultural backdrop which is so so important, so we are very excited about that opportunity.”
The city is also investigating the possibility of constructing an additional childcare facility at 8008 Malaspina Ave. in College Heights. If approved, the facility would be operated by Kool Cats Kid Care and open in 2023.
Although it is not a traditional role for the city to advance childcare, by partnering with childcare operators the city is able to increase the provincial grant opportunities.
“We know how important it is and how critical it is when we look at economic development, bringing businesses to our community, attracting employees and keeping young people and families in the community, so there is a real motivation for us to work with the operators,” added Bone.