Montessori program sunk by offshore cash deal

Veteran educator worries about loss of quality education and social spaces for toddlers

Early childhood educator Debbie Marette says she is heartbroken her 21-year Montessori pre-school program is being evicted this month with nowhere to go, as yet.

Marette says her childcare facility is not the first to face the wrath of Metro Vancouver’s real estate prices and it certainly will not be the last. She is concerned quality early childhood education is at stake in the region.

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Serving roughly 30-40 students at any given time, Blue Spruce Montessori, on Bird Road in the East Cambie neighbourhood, has operated out of a small hall belonging to St. Edwards Anglican Church since 1997. But, said Marette, when the property was sold for well over the asking price last October to an offshore buyer intending to build an international school, the program was given just eight months to find a new space.

“I feel I’ve knocked on every door. There’s just nothing. So we’re stuck not being able to go anywhere,” said Marette, who has reached out to city councillors, MLAs and Premier John Horgan to explain her situation.

“These families have been with us for years and years and years,” she said.

Montessori programming focuses on individual self-development in a mixed-age environment from age 30 months to six years. Students are encouraged to initiate learning rather than be instructed or “herded,” according to Marette.

Many childcare programs, Montessori or otherwise, operate out of churches and other spaces that are ripe for development, said Marette. 

She said the provincial government’s plan to subsidize childcare facilities is a good one but overlooks the need to keep existing facilities with low lease rates.

“Good rent allowed me to offer this childcare at a very reasonable rate,” noted Marette.

Parent of three Blue Spruce graduates Becky Chan said she too was heartbroken to hear of the school’s demise.

“Debbie’s devotion to not only the school, but the community, is what makes her a truly remarkable educator and integral part to the heart of Richmond,” said Chan, via email.

Whereas Blue Spruce has green space, many places that could potentially house a childcare facility do not, as they are in industrial zones, said Marette, who is concerned the existing push to increase childcare spaces and lower costs, while noble, has buried the most important part about early childhood development — to ensure children are in a safe and healthy environment. 

There was a potential opportunity to move into an accessory building on the Agricultural Land Reserve in east Richmond but municipal zoning and parking regulations negated the idea.

“There are all these hoops to jump through …unless you have millions of dollars to scoop up a warehouse and do repairs,” she said.

The veteran educator was disappointed the church didn’t accept an identical offer from a group of parents to buy the land, however the offer wasn’t cash and without subjects. The church has, however, offered Marette the building (modular) but she has nowhere to move it to.

“I’m got giving up hope. I’m hoping to reach out to the community and local politicians and say, ‘look, I have an opportunity to keep this amazing building,’” said Marette.


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