Brightly coloured modular boxes with windows stacked haphazardly.

Modular – Is it the Solution for Rapid Expansion?

Slow Start to Funding Streams

B2C2 is working with a number of organizations that are keen to expand child care in our province.  We’ve got as far as feasibility assessments, concept drawings and Class D estimates.  But then the endeavours come to a grinding halt because the Ministry of Education doesn’t have a grant or a loan program for new construction or even large-scale renovations. The recently announced CMHC low-interest loan and grant program is not yet up and running and we don’t yet know where Ontario’s share of the federal $625 capital program will be allocated.  And unfortunately, the banks haven’t been forthcoming either!   If we’re lucky, we can eke out enough funding from the “start-up” envelope together with ELC funding to manage a small addition or retrofit. 

Modulars in Manitoba

In April, while at a conference in Winnipeg, I contacted the CEO of JohnQ Public, Colleen Sklar. She took three of us from Ontario to visit one of their “ready-to-move” (modular) centres, Bright Beginnings Educare in Headingley, Manitoba.  We met the architect, the builder and the director of the centre on site.  The building provides space for 74 children – 8 infants, 12 toddlers and 54 preschoolers. The overall centre was 6,000 square feet, placed on a foundation pad with a crawl space.  All utilities were above ground within the 6,000 square feet.  In addition to playrooms, there was a large accessible outdoor play space, very large windows resulting in bright spaces, a small staff room, a small kitchen for serving (children bring their own food in Manitoba), an office, laundry in a corridor cupboard, plus some storage. Cubbies were in each playroom.  The design is meant to fit into a residential setting with a mansard roof containing additional utility systems. All three of us were impressed and I must say this kind of modular construction was a long way away from our preconceived ideas of school portables.  It was a real, brand new child care centre.

JohnQ Public is a consortium of municipalities, headed by the mayor of each municipality who came together to create a corporation that could quickly and efficiently build infrastructure projects in Manitoba.  Since 2023, their focus has been child care centres.  JohnQ Public collaborated with the Manitoba Government to obtain 100% capital funding to install “ready-to-move child care projects” (the modular child care centres) starting with eight that opened in July, 2023. JohnQPublic also created another company called JQBuilt to test a new and innovative method for delivering community infrastructure. This collaborative team approach provides communities, large, small, rural, Indigenous, or northern, a clear process to support the design and construction of important community infrastructure.  A total of 22 new centres are planned for opening prior to October 2024. 

Modulars Elsewhere in Canada

The experience of erecting modular child care centres is not exclusive to Manitoba. Quebec has a goal of building 37,000 new child care spaces by 2025.  Minister Mathieu Lacombe said it will be making use of prefabricated buildings while building new daycares to ensure enough space is available by 2025.  This should make it possible to reduce construction time from nine to three months for at least 1,600 spots, the ministry said.

Modular construction has become a major initiative in child care construction in B.C. where the BC Government has a capital loan program to encourage  non-profit child care expansion.

Rory Richards, who is of Coast Salish (Shíshálh) descent, started NUQO Modular — a female-led, Indigenous-owned modular construction company that focuses on designing and delivering child-care spaces, classrooms and Indigenous housing was founded in B.C. in 2020.

Like Manitoba, the building components are assembled in a factory.  This takes about 12 weeks and is carried out concurrently with the site preparation on the actual site.  The components are then shipped to the site and there they are installed in just five days. These purpose-built child care centres may not be cheaper than traditional construction but the time it takes to build, assemble, finish and open them is about half the time (or less).  NUQO Modular is partnering with another female-led company, Natural Pod to produce formaldehyde-free furnishings for the centres.  

What about Ontario?

Can we replicate these ideas in Ontario?  Former Minister Stephen Lecce has been promoting modular construction in the schools.  Can we ask him to extend his enthusiasm to child care centres and to also come up with some capital grants (or loans) to enable them to be actually constructed?

B2C2 would love to work with municipalities around the province to create an Ontario version of JQBuilt.  Please get in touch if you’re intrigued.

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