Dad says daycare damaged in fire is a community 'cornerstone'

 (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
(Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

It would be hard to replicate the experience offered by Sandy Hill Child Care, parent Daniel Loutfi says.

Loutfi takes his three-year-old daughter Lillian to the Wilbrod Street daycare on foot, as the family lives closeby.

The facility's staff brings kids on field trips including to a nearby fire station and to drop off crafts to the operator of a neighbourhood laundromat. And the client base is diverse, something Loutfi said he values.

"It's a lovely place where our daughter is very happy and it's very loving and she's learning a lot, but it's also a real kind of cornerstone of the community," Loutfi said.

Submitted by Daniel Loutfi
Submitted by Daniel Loutfi

But like the over 40 other families who entrust their children to Sandy Hill Child Care, Loutfi and his wife are unsure exactly what the future holds following a fire that damaged the nearly 50-year-old daycare on Tuesday morning while it was closed and unoccupied over the holidays.

A strong smell of smoke still wafted over the site Wednesday, with toys and other detritus strewn about in several rooms showing the effects of fire damage and the toil of firefighters who worked to contain the blaze.

"It's all the back of the building ... the kitchen, a locker room, a playroom," daycare director Pam Benoit said while walking through the building alongside supervisor Sylvie Levesque.

Benoit said she prepared "for the absolute worst" before seeing the damage for herself. "So then anything that wasn't the worst made it better.

"[It's] absolutely devastating. But do I still see hope? I do.'"

'A long road to recovery' 

While Benoit said she was optimistic the landlord could fix the space, Levesque said the daycare would not imminently reopen in the Wilbrod Street building.

"It's a long road to recovery," Levesque said. "It is fixable, apparently. But yeah, there's a lot to process at the moment."

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Sandy Hill Child Care employs 12 staffers.

"It's our daily life," said Levesque, who has been with the daycare for 29 years.

One employee even offered to host kids at their home — a gesture that had to be turned down due to licencing requirements, Benoit said.

'Don't know what the future's going to hold'

Levesque and Benoit said their primary concern is how to help families, including some refugees, who now need to find immediate daycare spaces for their children.

The daycare offered two daily snacks and a lunch to children in their care, which was especially important for refugee families staying in nearby hotels or motels and who only have access to minimal services like a microwave to heat food, Benoit said.

But she says she's hopeful a temporary space might be found in a nearby location.

Francis Ferland/CBC
Francis Ferland/CBC

Loutfi said he and his wife can cobble together a childcare a plan over the next two weeks, including enlisting grandparents to babysit and taking some time off. The couple works full time: she's a physician at CHEO, while he works at Global Affairs Canada.

"For any working parents, childcare is essential," Loutfi said. "Daycare spots are already at a premium."

While he's hopeful Lillian will one day be able to return Sandy Hill Child Care, Loutfi said his family has begun reaching out to other daycares.

"We just don't know what the future's going to hold," he said.