Some Kelowna childcare centres may not survive says one provider

Offering optional extras is key to getting by

Amid the constant growth of Kelowna’s population and the strings that are now attached to government subsidies, a local company fears for the survival of other operators in the city.

But there is potentially good news for some families whose kids will soon be displaced from a popular centre.

Alex Carnio is the founder and CEO of ProducKIDvity, a childcare centre that operates a co-working centre in addition to multiple add-on offerings.

She said the government’s childcare subsidy dictates how much operators can charge, and so her business model finds additional ways of making ends meet in a sector where costs have exploded.

But she’s concerned other providers could face the same fate as Building Blocks, which is shutting its doors sooner than anticipated, leaving around 200 kids without an affordable option.

“I worry for the centres that aren’t enrolled in some sort of optional plan; they’re not going to be able to make it,” Carnio told Kelowna10. “Things are so expensive and if you’re not paying top dollar you can’t keep staff and stay open, so we’re in this vicious cycle right now.”

ProducKIDvity charges up to $1,200 per month, as opposed to the basic $500 per month at other centres, because it offers extended hours, meals, and a co-working flexible office space above the various childcare rooms below.

It has had a long waitlist since it opened its Leon Avenue location.

The centre is open 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, and stays open until 9 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays. It’s open all-day Saturdays.

But all that comes at a price, and Carnio said she pays at least $3 to $4 more per hour to attract and retain qualified and loyal staff.

“I think the reality is, with the government involved to this extent, we’re now regulated in what we can charge,” she explained. “But the thing is, they’re not regulating wages either. Government says you can only increase fees by three per cent per year but we all know inflation is much higher than that.”

Carnio said the ever-increasing cost of wages and food, along with high commercial rent in Kelowna means there’s very little incentive for childcare operators to keep going.

“I understand the frustrations, I’m a parent myself, and I love reduced fees “ she said. “But there has to be something to help the childcare providers stay open.”

As things stand in British Columbia, there’s a $900 childcare subsidy per kid under 36 months, and $545 for those between three and five years old.

More spaces coming

Carnio said she’s very aware of the void left by the closure of the Building Blocks childcare centre on Gordon Avenue.

It will close at the end of June to make way for redevelopment. ProducKIDvity had already arranged to take over Building Blocks’ other location, on Sutherland Avenue, which will accommodate 65 kids.

But Carnio said she is accelerating plans to open two more facilities in Kelowna before the end of this year, which will accommodate a total of 200 children.

She hopes one location will be ready for July with the other coming on stream by later in the year. She couldn’t offer more details yet.

While these new centres will follow the same cost model as their Leon Avenue location, she’s confident they will be able to host some of the families left without more affordable care because of the Building Blocks closure.

“I’m hoping we’ll be able to allocate a certain amount of spots just to that basic care to try to fill that gap because I understand $1,200 a month can be a blow if you’re used to paying less.”

Published 2023-01-23 by Glenn Hicks

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