Brodie Arsenault

Brodie Arsenault

A new place for families takes root

Five years after Kensington Prairie Elementary shut its doors, the South Surrey site is breathing new life.

The City of Surrey – which took ownership of the land in 2008 – started preschool programs this week in the location’s updated gymnasium and annex, and Alexandra Neighbourhood House is getting ready to launch its public childcare centre Monday.

And there’s more to come, as the 1900s school house – now part of Kensington Prairie Community Centre at 16824 32 Ave. – sets to open this spring.

The finished building will host a variety of city-run day and evening activities, including parenting workshops, opportunities for families to play together and literacy-based museum and heritage programming.

“We have some really neat kind of programming ideas that I think are well-suited for that space,” South Surrey community and recreation services manager Stacey Rennie said. “I think people of all ages can expect to find things to be doing.”

Come Feb. 1, young children will be filing into the annex, where Alexandra Neighbourhood House hosts its Children’s Centre.

The centre will be opening with infant/toddler care and group daycare for three- to five-year-olds, with school-age care for children up to 12 being added in the main building in the spring.

At full capacity, the centre is to have 54 full- and part-time spots daily and 12 staff members.

It will be the first time Alexandra Neighbourhood House, formerly known as Crescent Beach Community Services, provides its own childcare program.

In developing the program, ANH identified infant/toddler care and part-time services as significant needs in the community, according to executive director Penny Bradley.

There is already an extensive wait list for the 12 infant/toddler spaces, she said, noting the centre’s prices are slightly under average and in line with those at the YMCA.

The centre will be following the Reggio Emilia approach, a philosophy started in Italy after the Second World War that allows children and teachers to learn alongside each other in a self-guided curriculum.

“It’s on-the-spot teaching,” ANH youth and family programs manager Rhea Hubbard said, adding that projects will develop from children’s interests and their environment. “When they want to learn it, they can’t get enough of it. You expose them to a variety of things daily and when they’re ready, they’ll pick it up.”

The centre also aims to connect with the community by bringing in guests, opening a community garden and hosting community dinners.

Children will have access to the adjacent gymnasium and updated playground – designed with a bike path, sandpit and rubberized surface for toddlers, among other features – which it shares with the city.

Rennie said the main building will have two classrooms and a multipurpose space on the main level that can also be used by other community partners.

“The physical layout didn’t really change. We’ve kept the classrooms the same, and even the offices, and what we’re doing is utilizing those spaces and refreshing them,” Rennie said, noting there has been an effort to preserve the building’s historical charm. “We’re working with heritage services to make sure that’s captured so when people visit the site, they’re going to be able to get a sense of that history and the people that went to that school.”

Rennie said the community centre aims to address the interests and needs of the whole family.

“Because there’s a family focus and early learning focus that so shaped this coming together, it makes sense that we need to support all ages to have healthy families, so that’s an important element to the programming,” she said. “It’s just an amazing site, and I think a really wonderful addition to the community.

“The feedback we’ve had so far is people being really excited about it and just really grateful for the new services.”

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