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New daycare centre to offer 'farmgate' program on heritage property

Denison Child Care will restore the Stickwood Walker heritage farmhouse, as well as build a centre that brings 73 new daycare spots to town

A new daycare facility planned for the former Stickwood Walker farmlands will not only bring 73 additional childcare spots to town, but community access to the heritage farmhouse.

Denison Child Care Services will operate in “an environmentally friendly manner” and offer a unique ”farmgate program”, which will include “raising chickens for eggs, … hives for honey … and large gardens on the property so the children will learn about growing their own food and what that means in terms of environmental sustainability”, acting planning director Jason Unger told council members at a public meeting last night.

The daycare has signed a 10-year lease, with the opportunity to renew for another 10 years, with the Town of Newmarket for the farmhouse and surrounding lands.

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Denison Child Care intends to fully restore the farmhouse that was built in 1885, as well as build a 5,000-square-foot building to the northwest. A date for construction has yet to be set.

Community organizations would have access to meeting rooms and a kitchen in the farmhouse, outside of the daycare’s business hours. Full details regarding community use will be provided in the future.  

The centre also has indicated it would provide daycare for newcomers to Canada who are taking English classes, Unger said.  

Mayor John Taylor lauded the “stunning design” of the building, designed by Markham-based 4 Architecture.

"This is an incredibly exciting opportunity," said Taylor. "It's a clear need within the community. It's a very interesting reuse of space."

"And I'll say one other thing ... I think it's an extremely financially or fiscally responsible move on behalf of the Town, as well, to partner with an organization that has the capacity to fulfill the vision on this site and it's not all taxpayers' money," he added.

Several residents of the nearby Nellie Little Crescent spoke to council about their concerns, particularly regarding parking capacity and the additional traffic the daycare will bring to the neighbourhood.

“I think everybody needs to understand just how much raw space 73 cars take up,” said James Greenhalgh, adding a 30-space lot currently exists at the site.

“To have... all of the parents dropping off their children within a hypothetical half-hour window, there’s just not enough space,” he said, adding staff parking will also be required. “It’s dangerous if there’s not enough space.”

With cars likely to park on both sides of the laneway leading to the centre, he raised concerns about the potential safety hazard for children darting between parked cars.

“A daycare as far as I’m concerned is fine, but 73 is an enormous number of (children). And the raw number of vehicles that need to pass through this small little laneway is just unrealistic,” said Greenhalgh, who has lived across from the Stickwood Walker property for six years.

Denison Child Care consultant Telly Papageorge said parents will be dropping off and picking up their children within a 2-½ hour period, so the additional traffic flow is manageable, and that at least four parking spaces will be added.

Another Nellie Little resident said while she was pleased with the proposal, the additional traffic that will be using the roundabout on Fernbank Drive “is going to be a huge challenge”.

“That’s going to add a lot of traffic to that area. And people just don’t understand the concept of a (roundabout). If you go to the U.K., it’s done brilliantly, and here, it’s awful.”

Mayor Taylor said Denison could likely provide parents with information about the proper use of the roundabout.

Ward Councillor Grace Simon acknowledged the residents’ concerns, but added the plans are “creative” and “a wonderful opportunity… to keep us connected to our roots” by preserving an element of the property’s farming heritage and maintaining community access.

“We’re very excited,” said Nancy Mosey, executive director of Denison Child Care Services, which has been operating in Newmarket for 26 years. “There is a huge need for child care in the community.”

“One of the things that we have done from the beginning of our organization is that we have made an effort to reach out and work with other organizations that are not-for-profit,” she said, indicating discussions have already been initiated with the York Region Food Network, which operates the nearby community gardens.

Papageorge added a museum will be included in the farmhouse, “showcasing” artifacts left in the barn, as well as the history of the property and its previous owners.

The design of the building replicates elements of the former barn, he said.

Denison Child Care, a not-for-profit facility that currently operates 440 childcare spaces at Dr. John M. Denison Secondary School and other local schools, met the Town’s requirements, as well as the conditions outlined in the 2003 purchase and sale agreement with the Stickwood Walker family, Unger said.

The daycare was one of only two organizations to apply to the Town’s request for proposals issued last year.

Acting as CAO, Ian McDougall said the town did not identify “an obvious municipal use” in terms of maximizing return on a “considerable capital investment” in the farmhouse and ongoing operating expense to taxpayers.

The adjacent community gardens, soccer pitches, parking lot and trails will not be impacted by the daycare plans, Unger said.

The former housing sales office on the property fronting Mulock Drive is to be removed this summer, he added, and access to the regional road will continue to be blocked.

The lands are currently designated and zoned as open space, so a planning amendment is required to permit the daycare and additional community uses.

Council agreed that a further meeting would be arranged with concerned residents and that a public information session will follow as an opportunity for further input.

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Debora Kelly

About the Author: Debora Kelly

Debora Kelly is NewmarketToday's editor. She is an award-winning journalist and communications professional who is passionate about building strong communities through engagement, advocacy and partnership.
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