A dispute between the Town of Sylvan Lake and a local non-profit society that offers learning programs for young children continues to fester while a deadline looms to sign a lease to use a community facility.
Kindercare Achievement Centre and the town have been at odds over the use of space in the town-owned community centre. A new lease proposed by the town does not include use of a room that Kindercare had been using for a number of years and felt had been previously promised for their use until 2013. Kindercare still has the option to lease 3,000 square feet it has used since 2004.
The town has argued that there are many groups vying for space in a growing community and the additional room must be kept aside for others.
At Monday night’s council meeting, the town’s chief administrative officer Helen Dietz read a lengthy prepared statement outlining the two-year history of the dispute since the last lease expired in 2007.
Dietz said in the statement that the group, which provides various programs to about 200 children from toddler to kindergarten age, must sign a new lease at a subsidized rate by noon Friday. The original deadline was May 6, but was extended by council.
If Kindercare does not sign, the lease will be terminated and the group will have 30 days to move its programs out of the community centre.
Dietz was sharply critical of Kindercare’s handling of the issue.
She refers to “attacks on town political and administrative leadership” that involved letters to Kindercare parents listing phone numbers of councillors and town officials and urging parents to keep calling them.
“Kindercare’s lack of leadership from the board of directors and the executive director has jeopardized the organization’s position, location and reputation,” says the statement posted on the town’s website after the meeting.
The message also says, “Council is very disappointed regarding Kindercare’s approach to politically drag them across the pavement after all they have done to support, fund and subsidize their organization.”
Kindercare spokesman Matt Toonders took offence at Dietz’s comments and said it was “intolerable” that a town official would question people’s right to make their views known to council.
“When is it wrong for concerned citizens to do the political thing and call their elected representatives?”
Toonders said it there were many errors in Dietz’s take on the dispute and said many of the problems with previously proposed leases was that the town did not specify what future rates would be. That’s an impossible situation for a not-for-profit society, he said.
The town was not making decisions based on the welfare of the children enrolled in the program but was more interested in protecting its turf, he said.
Toonders said Kindercare will likely sign the lease but he predicted it may have to cut some programming, which could affect 45 to 60 children, by the fall.
“There are going to be victims and it’s going to be the families and the children in this community.”
Town officials directed comments to Mayor Susan Samson, who could not be reached for comment.