Council tenders for Gumnut site after lease rejected

GUMNUT COMMUNITY: Director Leanda Rodham with parent Greer Ashworth and attendees of Gumnut childcare centre. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.
GUMNUT COMMUNITY: Director Leanda Rodham with parent Greer Ashworth and attendees of Gumnut childcare centre. Picture: PHOEBE MOLONEY.

A not-for-profit childcare centre in Lithgow that has been running for 35 years has been told by Lithgow City Council they will have to re-submit an expression of interest to continue leasing the centre’s premises. 

SDN Gumnut were informed by council in early June that the lease terms they had submitted to council for 21 Proto Avenue had been rejected and that the council would be calling for public expressions of interest for the lease of the site. 

They invited SDN Gumnut to participate in the tender process.

Councillors discussed the future of Gumnut’s tenancy during a closed council session on May 29.

Councillors discussed the future of Gumnut’s tenancy during a closed council session on May 29.

The council and the childcare centre have been in direct negotiations for 18 months. General manager Graeme Faulkner said the parties have not been able to come to an agreement. He could not confirm the negotiations were about rent price. 

“The council decided the best decision was to go to the market. It’s a very fair process as it allows competitors and SDN to put their best foot forward in the provision of services to our community,” he said. 

“By inviting new players onto the field we’ll get the best possible service for Lithgow’s mums and dads.”

A spokesperson for SDN, Dianne Speakman, said the non-for-profit organisation was not told their rental agreement would be deliberated by council during a closed session on May 29

“No, they hadn’t advised us of that,” Ms Speakman said. 

“We’ve been paying very low rent on the site. Obviously, things have changed and they are interested in seeing what it’s worth and we didn’t make an offer acceptable to them.

“We are keen to see the terms of the EOI so we can see what exactly the council is after.”

"POOR FORM": Parent Greer Ashworth said the council's decision did not not reflect the community's needs. Her son Jack (centre-top) attends Gumnut childcare centre.

"POOR FORM": Parent Greer Ashworth said the council's decision did not not reflect the community's needs. Her son Jack (centre-top) attends Gumnut childcare centre.

SDN will be submitting a new expression of interest for the site but have not received terms of the EOI from council yet. 

“If we are not successful in the EOI it sounds like the council will continue to run it as a childcare centre, we would hand it over to a new provider.” 

“It would be disappointing to us and the staff, as some of them have worked their for over twenty years.”

Ms Speakman said any increases in rent would have to be passed onto parents. 

“The biggest cost for us is our staff, but any additional cost in rent would be passed on in fee increases.”

“The biggest cost for us is our staff, but any additional cost in rent would be passed on in fee increases.”

Dianne Speakman

Parent Greer Ashworth said the most vulnerable members of the community would be impacted by the council’s decision. 

“If the council needs to raise funds I am sure they have a great number of assets they could look at. A childcare centre shouldn’t be the first port of call.”

A letter sent to parents by Gumnut said the centre will be operating “business as usual” throughout the EOI process. The new lease begins in January 2018.