Dispute centers around renovations
World of Wonders officials have said they are pursing legal action after the local YMCA withdrew from an agreement with the childcare provider.
Lauren Brown, executive director for the World of Wonders Day Care (WOW), said that officials from the YMCA and Union County Board of Developmental Disabilities recently requested a meeting. She said that at the meeting, WOW officials were told The Union County Family YMCA would not be able to honor its agreement with WOW for additional space.
“They also announced at that meeting they would be keeping the money we gave them,” Laura Brown said, noting the money was given for the YMCA to construct or renovate space for WOW to use at the facility into the future.
In a statement about the decision, Trevor Secord, CEO of the YMCA, wrote it would be “financially impossible and impractical to move forward” with the agreement it had made with WOW.
The statement acknowledged that, due to COVID-19 related financial constraints, the YMCA would not be able to complete agreed upon construction and renovations because it “does not have the funds to move forward.”
YMCA officials said construction estimates have increased more than $200,000 since the original deal was signed.
According to the statement, the decision was made, “after much conversation.” The statement went on to say YMCA trustees “fully understand and sympathize with the difficult position that WOW find themselves in,” but the organization, “has to stay focused on its own future with so much unknown in today’s current environment.”
World of Wonders moved into UCBDD’s Harold Lewis Center in 1997. The original intent of the partnership was to create an early childhood center in which children with disabilities would interact with children without disabilities.
“However, strains in the relationship often impeded this vision,” UCBDD officials wrote in a recent statement.
The partnership resulted in what UCBDD officials called, “an ongoing series of often challenging contractual agreements.”
In 2017 UCBDD tried to end the shared space and services agreement, citing the need for additional space due to growth. As a part of the mediation agreement, WOW was to vacate the UCBDD building by September 2020 and move into space at the nearby YMCA. Additionally, as part of the agreement, UCBDD agreed to pay WOW a lump sum to help finance renovations at YMCA to house their new facility. The YMCA also agreed to pay for a portion of the project, creating the necessary components needed to construct a suitable facility for WOW on its property.
WOW has been renting space in the YMCA since 2018. The agreement called for a three-phase move. In phase one, WOW moved school age children from the Harold Lewis building into an existing room at the YMCA. In phase two, the preschool and Pre-Kindergarten children were moved into renovated space in the YMCA.
In the third phase, infants and toddlers would have been moved into renovated space at the YMCA, completing the transition out of the Harold Lewis Center.
While WOW was to vacate the UCBDD building by September 2020, the date was pushed back because the renovation at the YMCA were not completed due to what YMCA called “environmental constraints.”
UCBDD recently granted WOW a final extension on their occupancy agreement until April 1, 2021, effectively ending the long-standing relationship.
UCBDD Superintendent Kara Brown said UCBDD has tried to be, “very flexible with WOW’s needs and are simply asking for them to uphold the agreement that was signed into place a number of years ago.”
She said UCBDD continues to need space and the recent pandemic has only confirmed that need. She said the having WOW vacate the building has been the plan for years.
Lauren Brown said that while WOW knew of the deadline, the YMCA’s decision was a surprise. She said the YMCA has received about $366,000 for the renovations to accommodate WOW.
Lauren Brown said that had WOW known the YMCA would not honor the agreement, it would have never invested the money for a short-term rental. She said WOW has been paying agreed upon monthly rent to the YMCA. She said that rent would have been about double once the third phase of the transition was complete.
WOW officials said they have asked for a full accounting of where and how the rent and renovation payments were spent.
“We have never gotten that from them,” Lauren Brown said.
She said WOW is “pursuing legal action to find out what happened here.”
The WOW director said daycare officials feel confident they will be able to find a suitable space and will be able to have all three age groups in one facility.
“We are trying to reassure families and remain positive,” Lauren Brown said.
She said WOW fills a tremendous need for daycare in Union County.
“We are doing everything we can to stay open,” Lauren Brown said.
In their statement, YMCA officials said they will continue to provide space and services to WOW as the daycare provider looks for new options for additional space.
Kara Brown stressed UCBDD has nothing to do with the renovation or construction at the YMCA and was “very hopeful that the agreement they established with the YMCA would work out.”
She said called the situation “unfortunate” but said UCBDD needs to, “focus on our mission to provide high-quality services and supports to all eligible individuals in Union County, regardless of age.”
“We have to be responsible fiscal stewards of taxpayer money and do what is best for the individuals we serve,” Kara Brown wrote.
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