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Proposed Ranger Park Childcare facility operator chosen

YMCA, out of Prince George, will help design and run the proposed facility
Alison Watson of PLAN54, who was awarded the contract of the Smithers Childcare Plan Implementation project shows interested residents possible locations of a new child care facility at Ranger Park during an open house to gather feedback from community members about the idea . (Marisca Bakker/The Interior News)

The town of Smithers is forging ahead with the project to build a childcare facility at Ranger Park.

On May 28, Smithers council approved YMCA BC based in Prince George as the operator for the proposed facility.

The town is trying to proactively address local childcare challenges, beginning with developing a child care plan in 2021. The municipality is also working internally and with community partners to put the plan into action.

There is a child care shortage of just over 200 spaces in Smithers.

Currently funding is available through the province’s Ministry of Education and Child Care, with up to 100 per cent project funding for local government-initiated projects. According to town staff, this presents an excellent opportunity for the Town to play an active role in filling the existing gap in childcare services, benefitting the larger community and businesses alike.

Town staff have already had two meetings with the Director of Child Care Development for the Province, to learn about the grant program details and requirements.

Council already approved a portion of Ranger Park to be repurposed to establish a new childcare facility the town held a public engagement session early- to mid-February.

The town put out a call for submissions from interested not-for-profit childcare service providers with proven experience and capacity to operate the town-owned childcare facility at Ranger Park. It was open for a month but staff received no submissions from local service providers.

Councillor John Buikema spoke in favour of the project but noted the exact spot where it is located will be important.

“This will take up on a small footprint of the park,” he said. “But a lot of thought has to go into the location so that we don’t make traffic on 16th difficult because it already is a busy street.”

Councillor Frank Wray was the only one who voted against the motion to approve YMCA as the operator, not because he isn’t in favour of that operator, but he is worried about the town being on the hook with cost overruns and he is also concerned about how the community feels about the project.

“I know the community doesn’t feel they were properly consulted and that we are just going to put a childcare facility in Ranger Park, I mean if we are successful with the grant. Now all that is left is to pick a location and I didn’t like that process. That isn’t anything against staff, we tried to hurry to get in for this grant.”

Given the tight timeline to complete the grant application process before the Aug. 2 deadline for the current intake, staff will schedule the first meeting with YMCA as soon as possible.

The first meeting will focus on design development, lease agreement, community engagement, and the grant application process. Staff intends to establish an internal steering committee to guide the project, beginning from the application process to building completion.

READ MORE: Ranger Park could be home to a new Smithers child care facility

Marisca Bakker

About the Author: Marisca Bakker

Marisca was born and raised in Ontario and moved to Smithers almost ten years ago on a one-year contract.
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