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Updated: Squamish council reverses course, OK’s extra $410,000 to Valleycliffe child care project

District of Squamish will fund approximately $770,000 of the $3.3 million project, more than doubling previous commitment of $360,000.
The potential site of the child care project sits behind Valleycliffe Elementary in Squamish.

Updated on April 17 at 2:15 p.m.

What a difference a week can make.

In a unanimous decision on April 16, council opted to increase the budget of the Valleycliffe child care project to the original staff recommendation from a week ago of $410,000 instead of ratifying the decision made at the April 9 committee of the whole meeting, which only would have increased the budget by $230,000.

Now, the District of Squamish will fund approximately $770,000 of the $3.3 million project, more than doubling the already committed $360,000. A provincial grant of $2.53 million funds the rest.

“While I feel like we're in a bit of a rock and a hard place, I feel like this is the actual financially prudent way forward,” said Coun. Jenna Stoner upon reconsideration.

Many on council spoke about the desperate need for child care spaces in Squamish versus balancing the escalating costs of the project.

“Where we landed last week has sent a message to that this council is not happy with cost escalations for capital projects,” said Coun. John French. “And I think we've sent a message that we'll be watching budgets very carefully.”

“As much as these spaces are really important, and there's a massive need in our community, delivering them in this way is challenging,” said Mayor Armand Hurford.

Coun. Andrew Hamilton said the increase in price was difficult to swallow, especially considering the District originally committed to a modest amount of money.

“I hope there's a better way to figure out how to make plans and get funding that can actually pay for the things that the funding is supposed to pay for,” he said.

Although Stoner was in support, she was adamant that these prices would not be viable in the future.

“I maintain that … this is not going to be the way forward in order to deliver 100 new child care spaces every year for the next five years to get us to our child care access rate. We just, across all levels of government, do not have that level of money,” she said.

Hurford added he would pay close attention to the risk of cost escalation for future projects.

District staff noted the project aims for a January 2025 completion. View the April 16 regular business meeting online for more information.

Read about the April 9 committee of the whole meeting below.

— Original story —

Squamish council is throwing a Hail Mary pass to keep the Valleycliffe child care project alive, but none of the elected officials expressed confidence it would be completed.

At the April 9 committee of the whole meeting, council debated the project's escalating costs, which have reached about $3.3 million in total. The project is slated to be situated behind Valleycliffe Elementary, just off Hemlock Avenue, and has been saddled with recent delays including an archaeological find plus increased costs over the last couple of years. The project, if completed, would provide 36 new child care spaces with Sea to Sky Community Services as the operator.

The majority of the project is funded through a $2.53 million provincial grant and the District has committed $360,000 to the project. At the meeting, District staff said the provincial grant was tied to the current location, capacity and design. As such, they recommended to council to fund the remaining $410,000 from community amenity contribution reserves. 

However, a motion to do so failed by a slim 3-4 vote. Mayor Armand Hurford, councillors John French and Eric Andersen were in favour and councillors Andrew Hamilton, Lauren Greenlaw, Chris Pettingill and Jenna Stoner were opposed. Pettingill wound up being the swing vote, as he stated he was “torn” and wanted to listen to the other members before his final decision.

Ultimately, in a unanimous decision, council opted to return the project to tender and seek proposals that would align with only an additional $230,000 in spending from the District, a number within the estimated plus 10% accuracy range from the proposed budget from Sept. 2023. As part of the motion, if there were no suitable options, they would then drop the project and subsequently have to repay the province about $381,000 plus forfeit about $32,000 that has already been spent.

Hamilton hammered home that the construction partner, Clark Builders, had plenty of opportunity to factor in the impacts of the pandemic, site challenges and the archaeological find before its Sept. 2023 estimation.

“Our construction partners have a responsibility to give us estimates with reasonable contingencies with reasonable estimates so that we don't get carried down a path, one step at a time: cost increase, cost increase, cost increase, cost increase. I don't know of another way to signal to our building community that they need to do a better job of estimating these things,” said Hamilton in his comments opposing the first motion.

The Squamish Chief requested a comment from Clark Builders over several days via phone and email, but the company did not respond.

Several times during the meeting, Stoner referenced that the budget had increased to about $90,000 per child care space.

“Our Child Care Action Plan identifies that if we want to reach our 30% target [access rate], we need 535 new child care spaces by 2024. If we're doing that at this current cost, it's $48 million. This is not a viable way to build our way out of the child care crisis,” she said.

Stoner recognized the alternative motion that did pass would not decrease that number much, but it would give a chance to make the project happen closer to an earlier budget instead of increasing funds again.

Although French supported the motion, he thought it was effectively putting an end to the project.

“My zero-accuracy crystal ball is telling me that this motion is likely killing this project, which we need daycare spaces there's no doubt about that. But if we are going to kill this project we are going to send—and have started into the process of sending—a bold message to the provincial government that we've reached a level of offloading that we're simply not prepared to accept,” he said.

In his support, Hurford said the motion offered a “glimmer of hope” to keep the project alive while stating bigger discussions on realizing child care spaces were needed. 

View the discussion in full on the District’s YouTube channel.

Please note, this story was updated on April 17 to reflect information from April 16 council meeting.

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