It took me a long time to figure out my passion in life. When I realized that opening a childcare centre where I would want to send my children was *it*, I jumped. Feet first. And it’s a good thing I did because if I hadn’t, I would have abandoned ship along the way. I heard somewhere that 90% of new childcare centre applications never make it to the licensing stage. And I believe it. I’m no quitter, but it was a long hard road. Here are four big things I learned along the way.
It will take longer and cost more than you expect.
When you first start looking into a centre, you read that it can take anywhere from 6 months to a year to open a one. It took me 2 years to get my centre licensed. I think I can get it done in 9 months now that I know what I’m doing. The first time around I didn’t know which tasks to juxtapose to take advantage of their completion times. I also didn’t know the possible complications that caused the project to come to a standstill until they were resolved. Delays = $$$, no matter what.
No matter how much you research, there are things no one can/will tell you.
The Ministry of Education provides two guides for prospective operators:
1) Orientation package-outlines the procedural and legal requirements
2) Planning & Design Guidelines– discusses things to consider when choosing a site and building a centre
These are great starting points. Unfortunately there are design requirements that aren’t stated (anywhere) that may cause your plans to be rejected by the Ministry of Education. One thing I can tell you for sure is to include on-site stroller storage. That’s not anywhere in the Day Nurseries Act or the two documents I mentioned above. But you’ll need it.
Choose your location carefully. Not just for drawing customers but because you’ll likely need to do an Environmental Assessment.
Another gaping hole in the information is that you will probably need to do an Environmental Assessment. I heard a rumour that we’d need one so I called the Ministry of Environment (multiple times), I went down to the local Civic Centre to speak with the building department (half a dozen times) and NO ONE I spoke with said I’d need one. In fact, most people said I didn’t need one. Turns out I did.
Under fairly new legislation, even if a commercial building is zoned for use as a daycare, any time there’s a change of use (meaning it wasn’t previously used as a childcare centre), it requires a Record of Site Condition that’s registered on the Ministry of Environment’s Brownfields Registry. I also found out the hard way that if the space you choose was a business that may have contaminated the area or is close enough to something like a gas station or underground oil tanks, your Phase 1 assessment triggers a Phase 2 [Big sigh]. To be fair, there are some types of buildings that don’t have this requirement, churches are one example.
Do a Preliminary Project Review and know your by-laws because may need to apply for a variance or go to the Committee of Adjustment.
A daycare requires a LOT of space around a building. You need playgrounds, parking for parents and staff, and a place to store garbage. I found out the fence around the playground I planned for my infants wasn’t permitted, so I had to apply for a variance at a Community Council Meeting. After that was approved I found out that I didn’t have enough on site parking based on the municipal by-laws. Off to the Committee of Adjustment hearing I went. Did mention that it will cost more money and time than you expect? Make friends with the local Councillors and do a Preliminary Project Review. Both will be very helpful.
The irony of it all is that I called two different daycare owners as I embarked on my journey. In addition to a number of newbie questions, I specifically asked them if there was anything I didn’t know but would need to know to given that I had zero experience in the industry. Neither of them mentioned any of what I’ve shared with you. If you’re still thinking of opening a centre, there’s no better business. But go in with your eyes open rather than feet first, like I did.