For 50 years, the Halifax Association for Community Living has operated out of Joseph Howe Elementary School in central Halifax.

The non-profit organization has an inclusive daycare program called the Halifax Development Centre for Early Learning, with space for 40 students ages 18 months to seven years.  It also operates before and after-school programs and programs for adults with disabilities.

But the association is being told it must clear out of part of its space to make way for the new pre-primary program.

“This is an existential threat to the life of this organization,” said Blair Langille, the board’s vice-president. “We don't have anywhere to go.”

Joseph Howe Elementary School was identified as a pre-primary site by the Department of Education in July. Since then, pre-registration numbers have been so high the department has opted to open a second classroom. But the Association for Community Living says that seems to have left the Halifax Regional School Board scrambling to find space.

“We were informed that we would need to be out of this space here on the main floor in short order. I think we were given (Sept. 19) perhaps as the date that they needed to sort of take occupancy. So that sort of came out of left field,” Langille said.

“That raises a lot of questions of what sort of relationship we have with the school board, with the facility. We’ve been here for 50 years; we’ve been a part of the community.”

For the last five decades, the non-profit and the school board have had a handshake agreement. The Association for Community Living has never paid rent and its board of directors says it would be unable to rent additional space.

The organization is concerned for its future at the school, where it has installed a $100,000 playground and a wheelchair lift and developed a special sensory room for students on the autism spectrum.

“If it’s just that easy to say pack this one up, then what’s to say next year or at Christmas if enrolment increases that they’re not going to eminent domain our other spaces?” Langille said.

The Halifax Regional School Board refused to provide an interview on the subject today. In a statement, spokesperson Doug Hadley says:

“For many years, the Halifax Regional School Board has provided multiple spaces at Joseph Howe School to the Halifax Developmental Centre for Early Learning at no cost to support HDCEL's programming."

"With the introduction of the Pre-Primary program, there is enough interest within the Joseph Howe community to offer two classes. Recently the HRSB advised the HDCEL's board of directors that we would need  to reclaim one of the classroom spaces to operate this second Pre-Primary class.

“We asked HDCEL for their input on how this space could be made available while minimizing impact. They indicated this could be accomplished by relocating the room used for their offices. To support HDCEL, the board has offered to assist with any moving of equipment or furniture. We look forward to building on our partnership with HDCEL into the future and supporting the needs of the community with the introduction of a second Pre-Primary class.”

The area MLA says this is more evidence the pre-primary program is being rushed.

“I can't and I don't blame either the school board or the principal, who's actually had to deliver that message, because this came from the top,” said NDP MLA Lisa Roberts.

“It’s so unfair to this non-profit childcare provider that has designed a program around special needs children in particular, and has had a relationship with the Halifax Regional School Board – maybe not formal, maybe not legal and involving a lease agreement – but they’ve been in that space for decades providing service to children who will not be served by the pre-primary program,” Roberts said.

The department of education also did not provide an interview today. Spokesperson Heather Fairbairn responded with a statement:

“The Halifax Development Centre for Early Learning has not been asked to move. The Halifax Regional School Board identified a need for a second preprimary classroom at Joseph Howe School and has been working with HDCEL to relocate space used for the centre's administrative offices and some adult programming. Families who access the HDCEL early learning programs will not be impacted by this change and the school board is continuing to work with the centre to address their needs. There is a great need in this community for both preprimary and the programming offered by HDCEL. We are confident the programs will continue to complement each other into the future.”

The Halifax Development Centre for Early Learning has been asked by the school board to choose a moving date next week.