FAMILIES and staff of Williamtown Preschool, located currently in Raymond Terrace were left reeling this week with the decision by Defence to withdraw its support for the service.
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Currently the Preschool is run, along with a daycare and playgroup, from a purpose adapted facility in Raymond Terrace, after being moved off base in 2017.
With the initial plan to be to then move to a new purpose built facility in Medowie, that plan has now been axed, affecting nearly 100 children and their families.
Families and staff were notified on Tuesday that the service would cease at the end of the building lease in December, leaving families less than four months to find other preschool arrangements for 2019.
Williamtown RAAF Base Group Captain Peter Cluff addressed families in a letter, explaining that Defence had made the decision based on the fact that more child care and preschool places are not needed in Medowie and Raymond Terrace, and that there are lots of vacancies nearby.
Williamtown Preschool director Michelle Curtin said it is incredibly disappointing for all staff and families, when they know their service is so badly needed.
“We are not just a child care service to these families, we offer so much more support to Defence families, and have done for over 45 years.”
Michelle, her staff and the centre committee are now in planning mode to find a solution.
Michelle told News Of The Area, “We are currently trying to find out which provider has taken over the lease of our building in the hope that they may throw us a lifeline and let us sublease our side of the building for 12 months to give us time to relocate our service.”
“If this is not possible then we need to find somewhere to temporarily relocate to, so basically an empty building or community hall we can utilise until we can find a permanent solution.”
“We are currently in discussions with Port Stephens Council for any assistance they may be able to provide, and are looking into Capital grant funding to assist with costs associated with building,” she said.
Williamtown Preschool Committee Secretary Sally Rolfe told News Of The Area, “I am extremely frustrated and disappointed with the Department of Defence having dismissed their ‘commitment’ to find a permanent long-term facility for Williamtown Preschool.”
Williamtown Preschool Committee President Deborah Benseman told News Of The Area, “It’s been one disappointment after another.”
“After the chat with Defence on Thursday evening, it is evident that they are treating us as a business commodity rather than families and unfortunately for us, we are seen as a liability.”
Councillor Paul Le Mottee was vocal with his thoughts on the matter, praising the job RAAF personnel do to serve their country, but critical of Defence and their handling of this type of community concern.
Councillor Le Mottee told News Of The Area, “The RAAF are a bunch of people prepared to put themselves in harms way so the rest of us can sleep safe at night, but the Department of Defence are the most uncaring, illogical, insensitive department i have ever had to deal with.”
“This building was refurbished for this purpose, spending an absolute fortune to do so, and just on two years later, they’re abandoning it, and it just doesn’t make any sense.”
By Rachael VAUGHAN