Ottawa

Shaky future of U of O's lone daycare has parents, supporters 'very concerned'

Supporters of the only daycare at the University of Ottawa say they're disappointed that — as their building faces an eventual demolition — the school isn't helping the decades-old organization find a new on-campus home.

Daycare doesn't know when it needs to leave building — or timeline for demolition

A woman stands outside a daycare in winter.
Natalie Bruvels is a member of a coalition trying to save Garderie Bernadette Child Care Centre, the only daycare on the University of Ottawa's campus. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Supporters of the only daycare at the University of Ottawa say they're disappointed the school isn't helping the decades-old organization find a new home on campus. 

Garderie Bernadette Child Care Centre was opened by university students and staff in 1988.

The independent daycare currently cares for 49 children in part of the university's Brooks Residence buildings, which are set for eventual demolition because of construction defects

The university has allowed the daycare to remain there rent-free but has told management the space will no longer be available at some point in the future.

Some parents say the timeline for demolition remains unclear and the university hasn't helped the daycare find a new spot on campus.

Carolina Sena, who served on the daycare's board in 2023 and whose two-year-old daughter goes there, said via email the daycare was told years ago the Brooks Residence buildings would close.

During "positive talks" with the university in 2021, the U of O said they "wanted to co-operate to find a new space [for the daycare] on campus or in proximity," Sena wrote.

According to Sena, things changed after December 2021.

Since then, Sena said, whenever the board asks for updates, the university has stuck to the same response: that no new space for the daycare has been identified and they'll give six months notice of demolition unless — as they put it in a July 2023 email to the board — that amount of forewarning isn't "feasible."

"So it could be less time," Sena said, noting that makes it hard to plan anything.

A daycare's outdoor play area in winter.
The outdoor play area at the daycare. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Sena is also pregnant with her next child. Since there is no other daycare in her area that offers care for babies younger than 18 months, she's "very concerned" about Bernadette's future.

"The board had asked the university for a solution to keep hosting the daycare on campus or close to campus, and to continue benefiting from the the rent-free spaces they currently offer," Sena said. 

"If we had to move — and on top of that pay rent — we would not be able to function."

University cites 'chronic' lack of campus space

The University of Ottawa declined an interview but said in a statement it appreciates the challenges of finding quality daycare.

The university said it was "unfortunately unable to commit to providing alternative spaces given the chronic shortage of available space on campus and the strict requirements for licensed daycare facilities."

In the July 2023 email to Bernadette's board, the university encouraged them to "come forward with any practical ideas you may have regarding how the university can help facilitate the eventual move to a new site."

A sign for a dyacare at the front of a brick building.
The centre is independently run but gets its space rent-free from the university, which says it's facing a 'chronic' lack of space. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

An access to education issue, says coalition

Bernadette doesn't need a brand-new space, said board member Michèle Lamarche, a single mother who works at the university and whose nearly two-year-old daughter goes to the daycare.

"If [the university] would commit to helping us find a place on campus, we could come together with other partners to help retrofit spaces," said Lamarche. "We're looking for an openness or willingness to work with us."

The university's statement to CBC "makes me sad," Lamarche added. 

"That daycare has been there for a long time."

If you're keeping parents out of these spaces ... you're really contributing to a university, to a campus, that does not actually want everybody participating.- Natalie Bruvels, member of coalition to save daycare

The issue of Bernadette's fate cuts to the core of access to education — especially for single mothers, said Natalie Bruvels, who's part of a coalition formed in 2022 to save the daycare.

"One of the best indicators for positive outcomes for single-mom households is quite literally the higher educational attainment of the mom," said Bruvels, who's also doing a PhD at the university's Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies.

"So if you're keeping parents out of these spaces … you're really contributing to a university, to a campus that does not actually want everybody participating."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa

Guy Quenneville is a reporter at CBC Ottawa born and raised in Cornwall, Ont. He can be reached at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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