An early childhood learning centre will open at Columbia Drive in Smithers next month despite controversy last year over its new location in a residential neighbourhood.
The Smithers B.C. Early Years Centre, which will be run by the Bulkley Valley Child Development Centre (CDC), will provide a range of services to children between the ages of 0-6.
Services include community-based play groups, a toy and resource lending library, consultation services and referrals for early child development services and resources.
“People are very excited about our new location and that it will be more accessible to the community,” said Kerri Bassett, executive director of the CDC.
“I think that location will be ideal for families to just come on by and come and participate in play groups or take some resources out of the lending library or if they have other questions about the community. We will be that kind of hub of information for early childhood development services.”
The centre is part of a pilot project with the Ministry of Children and Family Development and will receive $52,000 this year as part of $5.5 million allocated to the project over three years.
Currently, the CDC has two locations. The first on Fourth Avenue houses drop-in programs and the Child Care Resource and Referral program. The second location is situated between Smithers and Telkwa on a facility at the Old Experimental Farm.
The new centre at 1471 Columbia Drive will allow the CDC to slowly amalgamate its programs from both locations into one centralized location.
“We will have a person who will be the early years resource consultant and they will help navigate families through all the different resources and services that are offered here in Smithers, Moricetown or Telkwa and how families connect with those services,” said Bassett.
She added that renovations will begin this week and the centre should be open by the second week of April.
Kathy Petursson is the co-ordinator with MOST for Children (standing for Moricetown, Smithers and Telkwa), an early childhood development committee. She helped write the proposal for the centre, along with Bassett.
“Anything that government does for kids, especially 0-6, is great just because there have been tons of studies that show that every $1 you spend on children 0-6 pays off seven fold or something later on in their lives,” said Petursson.
“So anything that can be put into kids’ early childhood development I think is great and definitely worth the investment.”
But the CDC’s journey to find a new home has not been without controversy.
The building on 1471 Columbia Drive (close to the Bulkley Valley Hospital) was previously a Christian Reformed Church with a P3 zone designation, which only allowed religious buildings on the property.
In order for the CDC to move, it needed to be re-zoned to a P2 (public use) designation, to allow recreational facilities, senior’s housing, government offices, medical centres and schools to be built on the property.
The CDC’s attempt to re-zone the property was met with fierce opposition from some residents.
Smithers town council heard from many residents who said the re-zoning could increase traffic in the area. There were also concerns about the long-term future of the land and hesitation to “trust the CDC’s intensions,” according to meeting minutes.
Some residents even started a petition opposing the move, which was signed by more than 50 people.
The CDC also created a petition in support of the project, which was signed by more than 163 people before the re-zoning was eventually approved in November.
But Bassett said they’re looking ahead to the future.
“We’re moving forward and we’re actually going to be launching our project Pinwheel,” she said, adding that the project will focus on raising funds for renovations to the building and supporting the centre.
“We need community support in making this the most accessible location for children and families in the community.”
The Smithers location is one of 14 new centres throughout the province, bringing the total number of early learning centres to 26.