June 26, 2013

Nursery school gets rent relief from Town

As published in The Erin Advocate

Station Road Nursery School (SRNS) has persuaded Town Council to waive its monthly rental fee for July and August, as the non-profit group struggles to cut costs and stay afloat.

“All-Day Kindergarten has had a significant impact on our numbers,” said Board Volunteer Heather Baker, appearing before council with a group of parents and children.

“If we cannot significantly reduce our rent costs, we may be left with no option but to leave Centre 2000 and there is a real possibility the school may cease to operate.”

She thanked council for their August 2011 decision to freeze the rent for two years, but said they need more help with their current “financial bump in the road”. In a letter, they requested the monthly rent be reduced from $1,500 to $800 for six months while they take steps to increase enrolment. Verbally, they suggested the alternative of waiving the summer rent.

SRNS has been in operation 42 years, starting in Hillsburgh, but renting space from the Town at the Erin Community Centre for the last 30 years. They currently care for 17 children, but could handle up to 31.

Facility Manager Graham Smith said SRNS has “always been a good tenant and partner”, and recommended another two-year rent freeze, plus a 50% cut to rent in July and August.

The school does not operate in the summer, and their attempts to run a summer day camp have not been successful. The space is not easily adaptable to other uses, and Smith said major renovations would be needed if SNRS moves out.

After discussion, council decided not to approve Smith’s plan, but to waive the summer rent entirely, as well as the $1,200 theatre fee for their drama camp. SRNS will provide council with a business plan by December.

The school, which had its graduation ceremony last week, has been increasing its fees by 2-3% per year, rather than the 10-12% required to cover increasing costs.

Their long-term viability hinges on provincial approval to revise their license to operate as a daycare, with longer hours. A new fence is being installed as part of that process, but progress has been slow due to a backlog of applications.

Being open from 7:30 am to after 5 pm would allow them to “reach out to the many families in our area that have two working parents,” said Baker.

Unlike three other co-op nursery schools in Wellington County, SRNS has to pay property taxes, and appeals of the assessment have been turned down. As a non-profit group, they get a 40% rebate on their $4,000 tax bill. Wellington County has the authority to give a 100% rebate, but has not been willing to do so.

Mayor Lou Maieron said he would help lobby for the rebate and accompany the group if it appears as a delegation at a county meeting. “I would bring props, the little children, with you,” he said.

Other current efforts to boost enrolment include a five-day flex program that allows families to customize their schedule, lowering the minimum age from two years to 18 months, and marketing in Caledon where a nursery school had to shut down last year due to All-Day Kindergarten.

SRNS students interact with seniors at the East Wellington Community Services (EWCS) programs at Centre 2000, as well as high school students, and the school is involved in events such as the Santa Claus Parade and Fall Fair.

They host community events like Trike-a-Rama, the Bunny Brunch and Jack’o’Lantern Walk, as well as food drives and the Christmas Toy Drive for EWCS. They also have a Community Partner Program, encouraging their families to shop locally.

“We love the location and the facilities, and the proximity to the high school students and the seniors give our children a real sense of community,” said Baker. “This school is a wonderful vibrant part of our town’s history and we are not willing to stand by and watch it disappear. We are actively working to try to ensure that the school adapts to meet the changing needs of our community.”