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Coronation Park to close its doors

Heather Wright Special to The Journal The doors of Sarnia’s Coronation Park Day Nursery will close by Nov. 28, and 50 children will need to find a new place to stay.
Coronation Park
Lambton County council has ordered the closure of Sarnia’s Coronation Park Day Nursery by Nov. 28 Journal Photo

Heather Wright

Special to The Journal

The doors of Sarnia’s Coronation Park Day Nursery will close by Nov. 28, and 50 children will need to find a new place to stay.

With enrollment declining from the introduction of full-day kindergarten, Ontario has cut day-care funding.

That’s led to a $1.3-million dollar deficit at Coronation, which Lambton County has covered with transition funding that is now running out.

This spring, county staff recommended closure of the center, prompting a flood of concern from parents, staff and some political leaders.

Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley successfully had the closure delayed until after the provincial election, hoping Ontario would come up with additional money.

It didn’t, and the issue returned to county council last week.

Bradley said the process that lead to the staff recommendation of closure was flawed, and he called for a taskforce of parents, staff and community members to try to find a way to keep Coronation Park open.

“What is acceptable as a subsidy (from the county)? $20,000? $300,0000? You have never said,” said Bradley, asking for a delay until the 2015 budget.

County councillors didn’t agree.

Lambton Shores Deputy Mayor Elizabeth Davis Dagg said without staff wage cuts it would be a “futile” exercise. The 38 staff earn about $33 per hour while other day care workers earn $12 to $15 an hour.

“The union has made it clear they’re not in the business of reducing wages,” says Davis Dagg “It’s pretty clear this will be a futile exercise … The union is not coming to the table so our hands are tied.”

Sarnia city-county Coun. Bev MacDougall agreed.

“This single day care is part of 64 sites … it has already received more money than any other program. We can’t live within our means if we keep this single day care going forward,” she said. “And I’m not reading an appetite from local taxpayers for a $1.3-million tax increase.”

MacDougall was the only Sarnia politician to vote for closure.

Many politicians didn’t think the million-dollar price tag was worth cutting other county services. “It shouldn't be a county function,” said Petrolia Mayor John McCharles. “It is a service to Sarnia and only Sarnia. It should be their responsibility … Don't blame the county councilors for making a prudent decision.”

The process of closing Coronation Park will begin immediately. Unionized staff will have the right to “bump” into other county jobs, creating what Bradley called “a cancer” in the workplace.

He said the repercussions of the closure – the largest layoff in county history – will be long-term.

“You will be dealing with it with every contract negotiation in the next couple of years,” he told county councillors, adding:

“I may call for an audit of the operation of this whole portfolio because of some of the things that have come out of this.”

 Heather Wright is publisher and editor of The Independent in Petrolia