Children’s First Centre celebrates official opening

Children’s First Centre celebrates official opening
Left to right, Inuvik Mayor Floyd Roland, Education Minister Jackson Lafferty and Children’s First Society chair Melinda Gillis gather with society board members and a bunch of Inuvik children to cut the ribbon and officially open the new Children’s First Centre last Monday.Photo: Terry Halifax.

A handful of Inuvik youngsters cut the ribbon last Monday as politicians stood by, officially opening the highly-anticipated Children’s First Centre, Inuvik’s new, state of the art childcare facility.

“The dream of the Children’s First Centre has always been about having a purpose-built facility for the kids,” Melinda Gillis, Children’s First Society board chair, said in a recent press release. “What better way to highlight that than having the kids open the centre.”

The vibrant $6.5-million centre was a long time coming – taking 10 years of planning, fundraising and construction. Cofly Construction finally wrapped work up in early August after a soggy July slowed the process and delayed the official opening.

“It was a great day with a really good turnout with community members, leaders and elders,” Patricia Davison, the centre’s executive director, told The Journal. “There are currently 80 children enrolled…We’ve been running for about three weeks now.”

Davison said the centre received its licensing for 104 spots last Monday and that some age groups are already full, with waiting lists beginning. The number of spots is nearly double the childcare capacity that previously existed in the small town of about 3,500 located just above the Arctic Circle.

“One of the major issues in Inuvik and something other communities struggle with is space for early childhood programs. Certainly in Inuvik, the program moved from one building that was about to be torn down to another. There was a lot of movement around and the buildings they were in were not necessarily big and conducive to early childhood, so it was a struggle,” Davison said.

Waiting lists were also a concern in the community. Davison said she’d talked with parents who’d been waiting for early childhood care for years.

“We’ve had lots of comments from parents that they need this care to be able to work or go back to school,” she said. “This is a beautiful facility that has opened up more spaces and we don’t have to worry about having to move out because someone else needs the building or that it needs to be torn down. We’re very fortunate this way.”

With over 13,000 square-feet of space, the centre includes programs for children from six months to 12 years-old, including half-day, full-day and after-school care.

In attendance for the ribbon cutting was Mayor Floyd Roland, Minister of Education, Culture and Employment Jackson Lafferty, regional director of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) Kevin Lewis and Nellie Cournoyea, chair and CEO of the Inuvialuit Regional Corp.

“Everyone that came out and supported us at the official opening and supported us all along – I can’t thank them enough,” Davison said. “We really pulled together as a community to make this happen.”

While the centre continues pushing forward with its fundraising, the campaign has been widely successful, Davison said.

The Town of Inuvik donated $2.3 million, providing the foundation to move the project out of the design phase. CanNor put forth $500,000 to make a commercial-grade kitchen possible and the government of the Northwest Territories extended a helping hand worth $1.1 million for construction.

Local businesses and individuals within the community boosted funds further, adding over $1.7 million. Northwind Industries was one of the largest local contributors, donating over $300,000 worth of material and labour to the project.

“The Children’s First Centre is about Inuvik’s future,” Roland said in a press release. “Council, both past and present, saw that this facility would help build a strong community and give our kids a leg-up at the beginning of their education careers.”

The centre, though complete, will continue to work on landscaping around the cranberry and orange structure.

“The kids love the mud pit outside, but the parents not so much,” Davison said with a laugh. “We’re finishing off the toppings, so to speak, right now.”

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