After more than 25 years in the community, Cloverleaf Montessori Preschool will soon close its doors, after its tenancy was terminated by Christ the Redeemer Church in late January.
The church, located in west Cloverdale, has leased Bell Hall to preschool owner and operator Feiza Maidens since 1989. But as of August this year, the preschool has to be out of the hall.
There is growing frustration between Maidens and the parents of the 42 children enrolled at her school, and the leadership of the church.
As the tenancy termination notice was given in late January, many deadlines for daycare and preschool enrollment for the coming September had already passed, said Maidens. She is concerned that her students, who range from three to five years old, may not be able to find a place to go for the fall.
“Legally, they have given me enough notice,” said Maidens. “But morally and compassionately?”
She is also concerned that she won’t be able to find another building and secure the appropriate permits to open a new location in that time period. Maidens and the preschool’s parent group have submitted several requests for a nine-month tenancy extension, which would allow the school to run until June of 2019, giving Maidens time to find a new place and parents time to secure other preschool placements if necessary.
The church extended the original termination date of June 2018 until August 2018, but has said no to additional extensions, citing a safety report detailing major structural problems with the building as the reason why the preschool must move out.
But Maidens and the parent group have not seen the safety report, and disagree with its findings.
“I asked them if I could see the report, they said no. Parents have asked them. They have been bombarding them with calls, emails,” said Maidens. “Can we see the copies? Then we know. Then we get it. But no. We are not supposed to see the copies and we are wondering why.”
The preschool was evaluated by the fire marshall and Fraser Health in January and February of this year. Cloverleaf passed both with “flying colours,” earning a low risk rating, said Maidens. She does not believe that any major safety or health concerns would have been completely missed by the two inspections.
Maidens said she has been the ideal tenant for the past 26 years. She renovated the space when she first moved in, and has changed the carpets, floors, windows, and paint over the years to bring the building — which was constructed in the 1930s — to modern standards.
The disagreement over safety stems from a leak in the preschool’s kitchen ceiling, according to Maidens. “This year we had a bit of a leak in the ceiling in the kitchen,” she said. “I approached [the church] a couple times and nothing was really happening.”
Maidens informed the church that parents had offered to fundraise for a new roof for Bell Hall, but “they didn’t like that,” she said. She offered to pay for a tarp on the roof, in lieu of rent. “That’s when it stirred the pot, I think, and that’s when I got the [termination] letter.”
Safety concerns raised by church
The church has not been responding to the calls and letters from parents asking for a lease extension, according to Maidens. Furthering to their frustration is that both Christ the Redeemer Church and the Diocese of New Westminster place the responsibility of terminating the lease on the other, leaving parents unsure of who to contact on the issue.
When the Cloverdale Reporter contacted Christ the Redeemer Church, office staff said that the Diocese of New Westminster had been in charge of the decision.
Rob Dickson, director of finance and property at the Diocese of New Westminster, disagreed, and said that the decision was made by the parish based on safety concerns, and that the Diocese supported them.
“The tenant and the condition of the building has been under review for a long time,” said Dickson. “The building’s deterioration is significant, it’s not just a matter of a few roof tiles.”
Dickson said “construction experts looked at the building” and an inspection report was made to the leadership of the parish. He refused to show the inspection report to the Reporter.
Dickson said Maidens was well aware of the ongoing safety concerns, as she “was given notice in 2014 that … the parish would not extend the lease beyond a month to month at that stage and to be prepared to move.”
Maidens denies that the church told her the lease was changing in 2014 due to safety concerns. She did not secure a long-term lease in 2014, when her previous contract was up, but she attributed it to a change in church leadership — the reverend changed at that time, she said.
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“I didn’t pursue it because there was lots of change,” she said. “I never really thought about it.”
Cheryl-Ann Archibald, a member of the leadership at Christ the Redeemer Church, said that the church “had hoped to replace the roof years ago and just couldn’t afford to” and that the issues with the building extended far beyond the roof. “The entire building is well past its life,” she said.
“This is not new information to Feiza,” she said. “She has known at least the last four years that we have concerns about the condition and safety of the building.”
“The building experts we had in to look at the building and give us a report say the roof does not have another year in it. And it’s so bad that, I think it was said to me that even a roofing company shouldn’t be up on the roof.”
Archibald said that an inspection report had been made to the Diocese “in the early part of the year.” She said that the inspection report could not be shared with the Reporter.
“Unfortunately a lot of energy is being put into trying to change the state of affairs rather than being put into finding a new location,” said Archibald. “Feiza has been in Bell Hall for 25 years, she’s established in the neighbourhood. I get their angst, but if they would just put their energies into finding a new place, I’m sure they could accomplish it very quickly.”
A new home for Cloverleaf
Maidens is determined to find a new location in Cloverdale, and has been working with the school’s parent group to find a suitable building. “I’ve looked at many, many places,” she said. “So far, it hasn’t been very bright, and we’re running out of time. September is around the corner.”
She is hoping that someone in the community might have information on a location, and reach out to her. But even when she finds a location, she said zoning and licensing will take time. “It can take 9 to 12 months, so can you please give me until next June 2019? In fairness, for everyone. For my staff, for the parents.”
“I don’t want to leave the community. I don’t want to start from scratch… If there are no plans [for the building], then why [can’t we stay]?” she asked.
“We are asking short term. These are children. And isn’t the church supposed to be helping the community, setting an example for society? These are three-year-olds, five-year-olds that have no place to go.”