Second pre-school in danger of closing

Parents at a pre-school facing closure because it was refused planning permission to use a new site claim there is a serious shortage of places for their children in George Town.

Kids Adventures Preschool had sought to move to new premises in Bambi Close, off South Church Street, with a large yard and space for the 72 children enrolled in the preschool, but the Central Planning Authority turned down its change of use application earlier this month.

The pre-school’s two-month temporary lease in Trinity Square ends next month and if it closes down due to a lack of premises, it will be the second preschool to close for that reason. Its previous premises in Kingbird Drive were sold, forcing it to find a new location.

Another pre-school, First Steps, shut its doors on Christmas Eve last month, leaving more than 100 children looking for new places. It closed down because it could not meet the cost of renovating and expanding premises it had identified as suitable.

Part owner of First Steps, Ray Bowen said: ‘Although we had support to a certain extent, there were two main factors against us: time and money. Despite a very generous local business owner being willing to lease his property to us, the cost for renovations and expansion to meet the requirements of a day care/pre-school was not within our reach… and time was against us as our present location was only temporary.’

Kids Adventures owner Gay Smith said several of the children from First Steps had applied for places in Kids Adventure.

Ms Smith is appealing the CPA’s decision and has turned to the government for assistance.

The pre-school’s parents and teachers association met with government and planning officials at a public meeting on Thursday at its temporary location in Trinity Square, including Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts, education minister Alden McLaughlin, and the head of Early Childhood Services, Kate Marnoch.

According to Early Children Services – the unit of the Department of Education that oversees preschools – there are 170 vacant places in the island’s 32 preschools, but parents say most of those vacancies are in pre-schools too far away or are too expensive. There are only 18 vacancies in George Town.

Cheyenna Stewart, president of Kids Adventures PTA, said some of the pre-schools that have vacancies in George Town charge fees far higher than parents can afford.

At Thursday’s meeting, Ms Stewart asked for more cooperation between government departments when considering early childhood issues.

She said: ‘Every pre-school is facing issues right now, whether they be financial or overcrowding or funding,’ adding that parents throughout Cayman were having problems finding quality, affordable childcare.

A number of parents at the meeting said if Kids Adventures closed down and they could not find a suitable place for their children, they would be forced to leave Cayman.

Secretary of the PTA, Shanna Saunders said pre-schools in Cayman are facing a crisis of a lack of spaces for children: ‘I am talking about children aged zero to five years. There is not enough spaces in any of the pre-schools. That is a fact.’

She said the number of places for children who have not yet reached the age of one were even more limited.

However, Ms Marnoch insisted that there was no crisis in young child care facilities in Cayman. She said only two of the 32 pre-schools were in leased premises, so a repeat of the situation in which Kids Adventures and First Steps found themselves was unlikely to re-occur as most pre-schools were in purpose-built premises or attached to churches or schools.

Eddie Thompson, president of the Chamber of Commerce, was spokesman for the residents of Bambi Close who objected to the change-of-use application before the Central Planning Authority. He would not comment on the matter to the Compass, but according to the letter sent to the preschool by the Central Planning Authority, the objectors were mostly concerned about an increase in traffic in the road, which is a cul de sac.

It also stated: ‘Additionally, the Authority is aware of an existing commercial enterprise on Bambi Close (Fitness Connection) and that the traffic associated with that existing business already creates an excessive amount of traffic congestion on Bambi Close.’

But Ms Stewart said no study had been done to ascertain how much the traffic would increase, and added that in the preschool’s previous location in Kingbird Drive, neighbours had never complained of excessive traffic due to parents dropping of their children because it was done at staggered times.

Ms Gay said the parents of 85 per cent of the children attending Kids Adventures live or work in George Town.

‘We have looked all over. This place in Bambi Close is the only suitable location. We’ve been looking for months,’ she said.

‘We can’t give up,’ she said. ‘Our children will be the ones to suffer.’

One parent at Thursday’s meeting queried if the Central Planning Authority turned down the application because it would increase traffic in a low-traffic area, did this mean that the authority wanted to see pre-schools and little children put in heavily trafficked areas.

The parents and staff of Kids Adventure fear that by the time an appeal works its way through the CPA’s system, the building in Bambi Close may have gone to another buyer.

Mr. Tibbetts tried to assure parents and staff that the government would do all it could to ensure the pre-school did not close, but said that because Kids Adventures, like all other pre-schools in Cayman, is a private business, government could not easily intervene.

‘Because it’s a private business, it is impossible for government to simply walk in and say we will fix everything and things happen,’ he said.

Individual parents can receive subsidies from an annual $2 million budget that will pay for their children to attend pre-school but there is no direct government subsidies or grants for pre-schools.

Mr. Tibbetts advised the pre-school to continue looking for a premise, either temporary or permanent while the appeal works its way through the system, but he warned the parents and teachers that they should not pin all their hopes on the appeal being successful.