After school club needs room to expand
The need for after-school care is growing on Bowen Island and Ann Silberman of the Bowen Children’s Centre (BCC) that runs the After School Club (ASC) said that it currently cannot accommodate all the kids whose parents apply. The solution? Find or build a dedicated space that meets the demand. Silberman came to the January 25 council meeting looking for “comments, ideas and support” for exploring the option of re-zoning the site at 604 Grafton Road as the potential permanent home for after-school care.
“We entered into pre-negotiation around building an after school club on the land [between the Bowen Island Community School (BICS) and the BCC] that is owned by Mr. Al Leigh,” Silberman said, explaining that the easy walking distance from the school and the Children’s Centre speaks in the locations favour and also means that parking could be used by both facilities.
In a letter to council, Silberman laid out the background of the ASC that offers licensed out-of-school care for children in kindergarten to Grade 6. It started in 2000 in response to the need for quality, convenient and consistent care for school-age children. The program currently uses BICS’ facilities but also accepts children who attend other schools or are home-schooled. Children can sign up on a regular (full and part-time) or drop in basis. “The club’s coordinators organize a range of indoor and outdoor activities and prepare a substantial healthy snack. The ASC has a relaxed, nurturing and social atmosphere and continues to be a popular and necessary care option for Bowen families,” the letter states, adding that it is offered to the families for a nominal fee and supported financially by the Bowen Children’s Centre.
Silberman calls the ASC a “community service and said, “[Building a facility] is an exploration on our part. The board of directors is very conscious of the fact that the Children’s Centre takes on the project and the After School Club will never pay for this.” She added that the timing is crucial because the demand for after school care has doubled over the last two years.
“The need has increased in the last several years due to the establishment of all-day kindergarten that ends at 3 p.m. as well as an increase in families having two parents in the workforce,” Silberman explained. “We’ve got more people applying than we can fit.”
Silberman made it clear that BICS has always been supportive of the program but changes to the school population on a yearly basis affect the availability of space. Since 2010, the ASC has been operating out of the community use room at BICS, a space shared with other community groups. “We are licensed for 20 children but the [community use room] really holds only 10 comfortably, so we need to use the kitchen (when available), the gym and the multi-purpose room located upstairs. This fragments our program and is not optimal for staffing, supervision or the children’s sense of comfort and belonging,” Silberman explained, adding that it also means that there is no capacity to offer before-school care or child care on professional development days - a real need in the community.
Silberman hopes to increase the capacity to 25 daily spaces, the typical allowance for an after school club. Accompanying the Children’s Centre correspondence to council are a letter from the Bowen Island Gymnastics Club expressing interest in a shared community use facility as well as a communication from Alan and Stacey Leigh, the owners of the property, asking council to consider rezoning as the current zoning for the Grafton Road property only allows a gas station.
Mayor Jack Adelaar told Silberman that council just came out of two days of strategic planning where some of the discussion centred around creating a civic core that could include a municipal hall and a library. “We’ll try to bring in various clubs and groups to create that critical mass for a civic building,” he said, adding that he would see after school care as a good fit.
Silberman said that both the after school program and the gymnastics program currently face serious limitations due to the fact that they operate out of shared spaces and are aiming to create designated spaces that might not be “best contenders” for a civic facility.
Councillor Wolfgang Duntz expressed his support for finding a solution to after school care. He also wondered if alternatives to the Leigh property had been taken into account. “It’s not a perfect site in terms of sun exposure and a site assessment would be prominent in my focus,” he said. Questions he would like to look at include: Are there any better solutions? Who would fund the land and construction? Is land available at a lesser cost with better conditions? “But the most important consideration is the timing,” he said. “The timing would be at the top of the list, seeing that we don’t get any younger,” he said, adding that there has been a shift on council in view of the community centre. “We are more focused to address needs rather than wants. Everything about children and seniors is on top. Next to medical facilities, I see this falling into the category of the highest need.”
Councillor Darron Jennings said that both his kids are graduates of the Children’s Centre and they go to the after school club on a weekly basis. “This is a community service and I know how little you pay as parents,” he said, adding that he is in favour of exploring options that could potentially offer better financial stability, including drawing on the municipality’s “land bank.”