Permanent EarlyON centre coming to Centre Wellington

GUELPH – The County of Wellington will contribute $160,000 toward capital costs of establishing a permanent EarlyON Child and Family Centre in Centre Wellington.

Provision of the funds from property reserves to the Community Resource Centre (CRC) of North and Centre Wellington was approved by county council at the Jan. 25 meeting.

The centre will be located at Skyline Community Hub, 900 Tower St. in Fergus, which currently houses Big Brothers Big Sisters of Centre Wellington, The Grove Hubs Fergus and Compass Community Services.

EarlyON centres are a 100 per cent provincially-funded family support program for families and children up to six years of age. The programs are provided at no cost to families. 

Across the Wellington service delivery area, there are seven permanent EarlyON Child and Family Centres: two in Guelph and one each in Erin, Guelph/Eramosa, Mapleton, Minto, and Wellington North.

Although there is no permanent EarlyON facility in Centre Wellington, programs are offered at mobile and satellite sites at the Belwood Lion’s Hall, Fergus sportsplex and Elora Community Centre. 

Use of a leased space at Melville United Church in Fergus was discontinued due to accessibility issues.  

A report from Children’s Early Years director Mandy Koroniak notes Centre Wellington remains without a permanent centre even although the municipality has a population of 2,400 children under 7 and the overall population is projected to grow by 68.2% by 2041.

“Currently there’s no EarlyON centre in Centre Wellington. There’s a huge population need … from birth to six years that are looking for some sort of support,” noted councillor Dave Anderson, who chairs the county’s social services committee.

The county has previously supported establishment of other EarlyON Centres  within Wellington, most recently a centre in Rockwood that opened in June of 2022.

In that case, Koroniak’s report notes, the county approved a $210,000 contribution to support the Rockwood centre, sharing capital costs with the Wellington Catholic District School Board as the centre is located at the Sacred Heart Catholic School there.

However, when final accounting was done, only $50,000 of the approved county funds were required, which resulted in $160,000 being returned to the county property reserve. 

It is these funds the county will access for the Centre Wellington project.

“The nice thing about this is that we take the money that we had allocated for the Rockwood EarlyON Children and Family Centre that wasn’t used for that project and we’re allocating that across to help this project move forward,” said Anderson.

The report states the 2,200-square-foot centre will include a dedicated program room, office and storage room, as well as a common area and a meeting room that will be shared with other services that CRC delivers. 

The renovation project is estimated to cost $247,000, including a 10% contingency and the CRC board of directors has approved a capital contribution of $88,237, while the Skyline Group has contributed the cost of the HVAC system, which is not included in the costing, the report explains.

In a letter to the county’s social services committee, CRC board president Michelle Goldsworthy pointed out roughly 43% of the children using EarlyON services come from Centre Wellington, with families accessing local satellite sites or driving to other municipalities.

“Currently families are visiting our Guelph/Eramosa site and/or are travelling into Guelph to have their needs met by other sites” Goldsworthy stated in the letter. 

“Our team has been diligently working to maintain relationships with our families, who are eager to hear when we will be opening the doors to a main site in 2024.”