OLDS — The landlord who owns the building Mountain View View Child Care Society (MVCCS) leases has called on the Children's Services Ministry to undertake an investigation, now that the non-profit entity has announced plans to end operations by June 30.
In an email, Ron Prefontaine said he is also considering legal action in regard to the matter.
The building is located at 4410 47th Avenue. MVCCS signed a five-year lease for the facility. There are still two years left on the lease.
Prefontaine and a consultant he hired say there are too many unanswered questions surrounding the decision to close, noting there needs to be accountability as there's government money involved.
In a telephone interview, Prefontaine stressed, to date, MVCCS is "not $1 in arrears today." They haven't breached or defaulted on the lease yet. But given its announced plans to close, he assumes they will be making no further payments after the date of closure.
"There's actions that are prohibited in the event of a breach or a default," he said. "Now he (MVCCS chair Mitch Thomson) hasn't breached or defaulted yet, but it is imminent. Because obviously, if you've laid off all your staff and notified all your parents and it's posted that you're closing and there's a liquidation sale happening, they're not going to be able to pay the next 24 to 30 months of lease without any source of revenue."
However, Thomson told The Albertan the society plans to pay out the two years remaining on the lease.
"We've contacted the landlord and asked him to calculate it for us and we're quite capable of doing so," Thomson said.
"We're going the character route. Nobody's getting shorted here," he added with a short laugh.
“The Children’s Services department received a letter of concern regarding Mountain View Child Care Society yesterday afternoon and will be responding,” Children's Services communications director Nancy Bishay said in an email received Friday, June 18.
“We take every complaint seriously and if necessary, the Ministry of Children’s Services will conduct an audit and investigation,” she added.
A notice of the decision to shut down the operation was posted on Mountain View Child Care Society's Facebook site on June 15.
“I need to share with you all that we are very sad to announce the daycare will be closing June 30, 2021,” it said.
“We want to thank our families for their support over the three years we were open.
“I want to give a big shout out to our amazing team of caregivers and the passion they have shown in caring for children. They have all amazed me.
“Please watch for any updates in regards to our centre liquidating our inventory. We will miss you all, it has been a privilege to get to know your family. Take care everyone.”
Prefontaine said he’s upset because he didn’t find out about the decision to shut down the operation from management, but through the “grapevine” from the parent of one of its employees.
He said over the years, he's been impressed with the way Thomson has promoted the community; for example, as a former executive director of Olds Institute and lately as a town councillor.
"I have great respect for Mitch," he said. "I'm very saddened and disappointed at the way this rolled out, with no notice to me, no working with me."
Prefontaine said he and his consultant had offered to work with Thomson and the MVCCS to restructure the lease if Thomson could provide details of the society's finances, but he said that never happened.
Thomson confirmed the shutdown during an interview, saying notice was given to parents and staff that the operation was ending as of June 30.
He said as of the end of April, MVCCS had 24 staff and as of June 15 it had 53 children in care about half of whom were cared for on a part-time basis.
Thomson said the society made the decision to close because the provincial government pulled the funding on a $25-a-day daycare pilot program.
“When they removed the $25 a day child care (grant) the fees at the centre literally had to almost double. That put a hardship on the parents that couldn’t afford the service,” Thomson said.
He said as a result, staff was cut nearly in half. At the same time, some parents pulled their kids from the program.
At its peak before COVID hit, 27 people worked there, looking after nearly 100 children, Thomson said.
“The federal government continued to support the program, but the province pulled away from the pilot and asked that unused grant monies be returned,” Thomson said.
“So centres like ourselves that had been prudent users of the dollars ended up returning – in our case, we will return about $180,000 of unspent money to the province and federal government.”
He said MVCCS has already returned about $100,000 of that money and will be returning the remainder shortly.
The centre now covers at least 6,400 feet after the MVCCS added another 1,500 square feet on to what had been a 4,800 square foot building.
“Over the last couple of months, we’ve kind of been watching what the trends are and stuff and while we’ve had more parents join, we’ve also had a few more leave, and it just isn’t -- in a facility that size – sustainable at that level,” Thomson said.
“We’re disappointed that the pilot program wasn’t continued, but we also recognize that you know, in today’s economy, there just wasn’t the same demand moving forward. And so we feel we made a reasonable decision with all the facts in front of us."
Prefontaine said he’s not so concerned about the loss of MVCCS as a tenant because he’s confident he can find another child care operator or even another business willing to rent it.
But he’s concerned for the children, the staff that are being let go and the parents left scrambling to find child care for their kids.
He wondered why the MVCCS had not tried to sell the business. And if that couldn’t be done, why it wasn’t simply turned over for $1 to some kind of other non-profit organization.
"We have received calls from several interested parties and will be exploring those types of options very soon," Thomson wrote in an email. “I will keep you informed.”