A childcare and kids’ after-school supervision centre operating in Brookvale on Sydney’s Northern Beaches is closing, after years of continuous service, much to the dismay of the parents that use their facilities.
The operators claim they are being forced to move because the NSW Department of Education (DoE) won’t grant them a long-term tenancy.
Brookvale Early Learning Centre (BELC), at 2-8 Old Pittwater Rd, is in the grounds of Brookvale Public School, which, like most state-run schools, sits on government-administered property. It’s a privately-run business that has operated from within the school gates for 13 years, catering to 84 young children in long day care.
They also supervise 120 older kids in after-school and vacation care, in another leased building on the Brookvale Public School site.
Amy Nordien, Centre Director, told Manly Observer why BELC feels compelled to air their grievances.
“It’s been a childcare centre for over 30 years,” she revealed. “The current providers have been here for 13 years – I’ve worked here for 14-and-a-half years. It’s a privately-run centre, not part of a chain.
“Kevin [BELC owner] took over the lease in 2009 when the previous tenants went bust. We had, initially, a ten-year-lease, which expired in 2019, but ever since 2019 the Department [of Education] has just been rolling us over on a month-to-month lease.
“In 2019 it should have gone to tender, so the current owner, or anyone else, could have submitted offers [to administer the on-site childcare facilities], then an extended lease could have been drawn up. However, the Department has been too busy.”
Was this because it coincided with the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent community lockdowns?
“Initially they were changing regulations and needed something like 20 different government bodies to sign off and agree with things,” Ms Nordien explained. “Then Covid hit, so that delayed it further. And now, three years later, they’re still waiting for that initial review that started three years ago to be completed. And they’re still just rolling us over [on a month-to-month basis].”
DoE busy undertaking a review
The DoE confirmed to Manly Observer that when BELC’s lease expired in 2019, it was undertaking a review of Early Childhood Licensing and Procurement. During this review, a freeze was placed on all tenders, which was then extended throughout the COVID-19 pandemic period.
Meanwhile, other priorities have since taken precedence. For example, on 18 October 2022, the DoE announced new law reforms that NSW Treasurer Matt Kean claims will “give more NSW families access to high quality, affordable childcare. Importantly, it will boost women’s economic security by dismantling the barriers for mothers wanting to take on more paid work.”
In the interim, however, the uncertainty will see the removal of access to BELC.
BELC’s long day care will cease operating on Friday 28 October 2022, and BELC’s OOSH will cease operation on Friday 16 December 2022, coinciding with the last day of term four at the end of the school year.
BELC have decided to pull out of the intransigent Brookvale situation and relocate to Terrey Hills, where they have been offered a building with a secure long-term lease to enable them to continue operating.
“It got to the point that the owners need certainty, for the centre, the business, the families, the staff, and it’s just not happening,” Ms Nordien explained.
“It got to the point that the owners need certainty, for the centre, the business, the families, the staff, and it’s just not happening.”
“Because we’re on just a month to month lease, there’s been no opportunity for us to invest in the centre. The owner has money set aside to renovate [the building] and re-do the playgrounds, but we have no certainty as a business to do any of that.
“Over the years, we’ve offered the Department different scenarios. Perhaps they were holding off [on a long-term lease] because they wanted the building we’re in back for the school.
“But there’s a big block of vacant land next to the car park where we offered to pay for construction of a new building where we could continue running an onsite childcare centre and OOSH.
“They said they’d review it, but we’ve never heard back from them.”
Could BELC have installed temporary, easily dismantled portacabin-style classrooms to sustain their business, if they were reluctant to fork out thousands of dollars for building maintenance while their tenancy contract was on hold?
“Yes! We offered different options to them,” Ms Nordien confirmed. “We suggested a five-to-eight-year lease, to give us some sort of certainty, because they’re not issuing ten-year leases any more, but the Department just said, ‘no’, we’d just have to wait until it goes to tender…”
BELC aren’t unique in providing long day care and OOSH within school grounds. There are numerous primary schools in the Northern Beaches area and all over Sydney that have a symbiotic relationship between pre-school childcare and the education of older kids on the same premises.
Ms Nordien said she is aware of other childcare centres undergoing similar challenges persuading the DoE to provide them with security of tenancy, as well as centres that have shut down because of the uncertainty.
“The difference is, a lot of them are part of a chain of companies, whereas we’re just a small, privately-run business, so we don’t have as much financial backup to keep going [with lease uncertainty].
“I find it shocking that the Department is letting this happen to what is an essential community service. What surprised us is that it’s a government-run education body that wants to support children and families, and yet they’re won’t offer to help accommodate us.
“We went to them with many different offers for a more secure lease, but either they don’t return calls, or say they’ll get back to you and you don’t hear from them.
“We didn’t actually have a signed lease for this year. They emailed and said ‘continue your lease’, but they never sent us the actual paperwork confirming we had one!”
OOSH ANNOUNCEMENT FOLLOWS BELC DEPARTURE
On 20 October, Brookvale Public School Principal Jane Stanley, advised that the Department of Education had selected Uniting Church to provide the before and after school care at the school. There is no word, however, on whether this will extend to long day care. A number of parents contacted Manly Observer to say they were frustrated that because of the delays and uncertainty they will now have no vacation care for their children in January, affecting their ability to work.
Department of Education response.
Manly Observer contacted the DoE and asked a number of questions concerning their relationship with BELC and why a childcare facility should be expected to continue operating on only a monthly lease
A Department of Education spokesperson told Manly Observer:
“When lease agreements expire, in line with government guidelines, we go through a tender process to ensure the best quality and value for money service for students and parents.
“In the interim, Brookvale Early Learning Centre was offered an extension to its lease until 31 December 2024, an offer they declined.
“We understand that local parents rely on these services, and are working hard to put arrangements in place to limit the impact of the current provider opting to move. We will keep the school community updated on this.”
The DoE added it was unlikely a replacement to BELC will be found in the short-term and recommended more than 20 existing early childhood services within a five kilometre radius of Brookvale Public School.
The DoE recommended visiting the Service NSW ECE Finder website:
Brookvale Early Learning Centre Facebook