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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Ask the Matriarch — This Space for Rent?

Woooooooooo, I made it. Wasn't sure if we were going to have an AtM this week because of all the holiday/vacationing going on, but you know, questions don't take holidays, and so I'm just a wee bit late rather than not here at all. I hope everyone had a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Now, for this week's question:

We have received an inquiry about renting space. There is a group in town working on a business plan to start up a day care facility focusing on the under-18-month age range (the current day care only takes children over 18 months of age) and possibly preschool age group for kids that need a quieter environment. Personally, I am not sure how well our space will meet their needs, but they seemed quite interested. Can anyone who has done this before share any advice/caveats/warnings/suggestions, in case we actually get to working out an agreement?

Karen writes:
There are tons of issues, but I'd say the one that came up most for us was the issue of shared space. Is everyone clear that the church can use the space rented to the childcare group when they are not there, i.e. as a Sunday school classroom or for childcare for evening or weekend church events? We ran into problems with some members of the pre-school's board of directors, as they insisted that by paying rent, they got exclusive use of that space. What about third parties? We had an AA group meeting on one weekday night in an area used by the preschool during the day. All went well until one morning a parent volunteer found a dirty coffee cup and half eaten brownie left behind by someone in the AA group. When it got out that an AA group (and you know how filthy and germy addicts must be) was meeting in one of "their" rooms, the $%@# hit the fan in a big way. Be sure all this is clear and in writing in the lease or contract.

And a side note: If you are thinking about enrolling your own kids in the pre-school/daycare that rents space in your church, be aware in advance that this will sometimes put you in an awkward spot—for instance, when church members are ranting about how the pre-school kids have trampled their carefully planted flowers, when the pre-school teacher complains loudly and publicly about how the church STILL hasn't managed to get the leaky toilet in their playroom repaired, when it's time to renegotiate the lease and everyone has new stipulations they want to put in, etc. etc. I did this for five years—but might have pulled out had my kids not been so settled and happy with the program. It's great to have your kids on site, but there are definitely drawbacks.

Abi writes:
At another church, we had someone approach us with a similar need. We began by getting information from our state and requirements. We ended up not going through with it, but it was because the interested party didn't follow through. But I would be sure to get the state regulations and requirements, even though some states don't require churches to go through them. It will help reassure parents who look to those licenses to know that their kids, especially that young, are well taken care of.

Another thing you can do is go around and ask other churches in the area of how they deal with day-care situations. I think if you have a lawyer they can help you with the contract agreements etc. I would recommend having an administrative board for the day-care facility. We had one at another church I worked at, and it worked very well to handle the concerns of the day care and those of the church. Bringing in another entity that is not part of the church is well something you want to be sure your administrative council is on board with. It is different than starting one up within your church.

How about you?
One of my parishes (the one I recently left, before I moved) has an independent day-care facility on its campus. I can look into getting more information on how they arranged that, but unfortunately I'm not privy to it. But I'm sure there are others here who have worked out arrangements like this and can speak on the topic. Or, perhaps you've worked at a place where it's worked out nicely and can share some examples. Feel free to share them in the comments!


  1. I allowed a pre-school to move into our church building with the intent of being open and hospitable to these families and the center (who had lost their site when it was sold). It was a great idea but a difficult thing to live into. The director was very disorganized and chaotic despite being a business owner for 30 years. And, as has been said previously, it is very complex to share space. We all kinds of issues after the fact that weren't issues in the negotiations. Things like crosses, or the art work from our kids being on the walls when their "secular" kids and parents arrived on Mon. Or, cookie crumbs from kids (not even AA) left over from Sunday coffee hour which was inadvertently not cleaned up. It seemed, despite our conversations and agreement, their perspective was "since they were paying rent it was THEIR space" not shared space. It was extremely difficult to work with the director and her board. That being said I would suggest that this daycare center become a ministry of the parish with parishioners on the board of the center, especially parishioners who serve in leadership capacity in the parish. I loved the teachers and staff and kids. That part was great! It was the governing piece that was so difficult, with the church and daycare center ending up being at cross-purposes, although it did not need to be that way. So. yes, lots of very clear up front conversation, put everything in writing, and try to have members of the parish on the board of the day care center, better yet, incorporate it as a ministry of the parish so you have a mutual ministry.

    Best wishes. I hope it works out well. I still love the idea even though my experience was a total nightmare.

  2. I've had a lot of experience with this and can't emphasize enough the importance of getting an attorney involved to help document your agreement with the day care/preschool and check all licensing requirements in advance. Also insist that the school have adequate insurance coverage and gives the church proof of it annually.

    Shared space is a HUGE issue that can cause serious conflict between the congregation and the school. This is a point that must be carefully negotiated and documented as well.

    I recommend that you contact a nearby church with experience either renting to a school or running a school and ask their folks to sit down with some of your key people to get the benefit of their experience before making your decision.

  3. Our church does not accept rent of the facility from any of the nearly 20 groups that use it daily/weekly/monthly - including the nursery school(although donations are always gratefully accepted - and almost always offered). That way - no issues of shared space (it's all ours) and no potential issues affecting the church's tax-exempt status, a big concern unless you can make the point that every group using the church and paying for the privilege is a legitimate ministry of the church. Our building policy becomes a part of our Christian witness and the building remains under our control. Having said that, our nursery school is always full and contributes signficantly to the church's operating budget. And - it's a tremendous outreach. We are a distinctly Christian nursery school, everyone knows it, parents love it - and the pastor gets the wonderful pleasure of reading a Bible story to the kiddies every week. Best part of the job:)

  4. I am an attorney and, come August, a seminarian. Our church had a daycare centerlocated in our parish for years, and reached the point of ending the relationship. The issues we encountered were:
    1. Rooms were dedicated to the daycare but when they needed more room for something ( like drying the art projects), they would use other parts of the building and would be upset if we moved things ( even though we needed those rooms and everything was handled gently).
    2. The morass of regulations for ADA, childcare, etc often is a challenge for older buildings, plus the sticky issue of who should pay for something that was only needed by the daycare? If our allowing the space rent-free is our contribution, who should pay for capital improvements.
    3. WEAR AND TEAR. Many of us have kids, and have survived the itty-bitty years. Lots of accidents happen. Without being graphic, we were amazed how much better the bathrooms were when 60 kids in various states of diapers, training pants and potty training were not there.
    4. Liability. You need to make sure your insurance carrier is on board and knows, you also need to see regular proof of the daycare coverage. You need to know what happens there. We found out the daycare was using a room for a temper tantrum child. OK. But they were leaving the child locked in the room if something happened, likethe phone rang. And if you have "Safe Haven" type expectations for your congregation, ie keeping kids safe and not leaving people alone with children, background checks, etc., all of these expectations must be met by your daycare.
    5. Finally, sorry to ramble, your Board needs to have errors and omissions insurance since, God forbid, something goes wrong, someone will look for every pocket.
    All of that having been said, the arrangement can work well. It requires lots of organization on both ends of the equation, and personalities who can have mature conversations about issues which can and will arise without personalizing things. If you have other groups, like AA, everyone needs to know who is around and when. Distributing a Master calendar helps. Good luck.

  5. Being in an urban area, we rent literally every corner of our building. That being said, we have a building manager and a very active, efficient facilities commission that continually reviews contracts, maintains relationships, etc. Our preschool was previously a ministry of the church, but twenty years ago, it was sold to an individual. I agree what people say about ada, insurance, fire code requirements...make sure the pre-school person is up on all of that. Also, the loss of dedicated space for Sunday School must be taken into consideration--we don't have religious material in the pre-school classes; but we recently negotiated a contract with another weekly group in some space that has been dedicated to church school, and I said that the only way we would do it is that the rooms can be rearranged, but the walls will stay the same (artwork, religious symbols, etc.)
    Good luck. It is a great thing, and as everyone else says, challenging to manage.

  6. really interesting reading this's all so different overhere where there is very good state daycare (95%of parents - both men and women) so churches are not involved in this.

  7. The church where I grew up has, over time, rented to catering companies, a charter high school, a nursery school, a charter elementary school, office space to non-profits, and who knows what else. Oh! And the space is co-owned by an Episcopal congregation and Reform synagogue, both with large, active, congregations.

    So... space sharing can be a serious issue, but if its possible, it can also make for great relationships between the congregation and various community groups. I second (fourth?) the ideas about getting a lawyer to help with contracting, and the importance a group that manages these issues (not just you!).

    That said - I think that lack of decent childcare is one of the major economic issues of our culture, and anything the church can do to help is absolutely a justice ministry. So go for it! Just, you know... wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove.

  8. I am Parish Administrator for a church with a day care in one half of the building.

    First off, I would not rent to a day care unless this is adopted as a mission of your church. Currently we have a very cordial relationship with the day care, but there were years of tension and late rent. To survive, you need something sustaining you beyond a mere business relationship.

    That said, I think it is crucial to have a clean contract. You also need proof of the annual renewal of the day care's liability insurance.

    The day care at our church is a completely separate legal entity, so we assume no liability. Our situation is unusual in that the church founded the day care and built the first wing of the church to accommodate the school. As time passed, the day care became independent, but they still have exclusive use of most of their rooms. Our pre-school Sunday School and Sunday nursery are in day care rooms.

    We share the Great Hall, where they have their school-age programs group. The Great Hall used to be an enormous bone of contention until we worked with the day care to get their toy shelving and computers on wheels so that their stuff can be rolled out for our Sunday children's music program and for special events. The boundaries of how the Great Hall is shared are very specifically spelled out in our rental agreement.

    In general, it doesn't work to use rooms for multiple on-going activities. Teachers, whether they be your Sunday School teachers or the day care teachers become quite territorial. They want to decorate the rooms, set out book shelves, etc. If the exact same rooms are used for day care and for Sunday School, one set of teachers is going to feel disenfranchised.

    Maintenance is always a problem. For better or for worse, we do not have a standard commercial lease, which would make the day care responsible for all maintenance and repairs inside the skin of the property.

    On one hand, this means that we pay the plumber for repairing those tiny toilets and we do the painting etc. On the other hand, this gives us the authority to make those repairs and keep their end of the building from deteriorating. Day cares are notoriously unstable financially, so you can't expect them to have the wherewithall to do much beyond the sort of repairs a parent volunteer can manage.

    Periodically, we have had joint day care/church work days and those have been successful. We've also had teens going for Eagle Scout do projects for the day care that benefit the building.

    Bottom line: even with a contract, your church will still have a stake in the day care operations. If the class rooms are dingy and in need of minor repairs, this makes the school unattractive to parents, who then don't enroll their children, making it difficult for the day care to pay rent. For this same reason, we hire and supervise the cleaning for the day care end of the building.

    And, frankly, it's not just all about money and property maintenance. These are little chilren in those classroom and on that playground--many from very poor families. I believe we have an ethical obligation to help create as pleasant an environment as possible.

    Some hints:
    1. Make sure your finances are not intermingled at all! We make quarterly donations to the day care for scholarships, but we do not donate to operating funds.
    2. Make sure you have a good contract that spells out exactly who will use which rooms at which times. For any common area, be sure to spell out what toys/furniture/equipment will be moved on weekends and for special events and who will do the moving.
    3. Have a designated staff person to work with the day care. It's important to develop a warm and professional relationship with the day care director.
    4. Make sure that all requests for repairs, any complaints about about cleaning etc, go to the director and then to you. You don't want to be in a position of dealing directly with teachers or parents.
    5. Include the day care areas in your annual building and grounds budget. Let the day care know what your plans are (paint exterior, replace toilets, etc.)so that teachers and parents can see that you make a good faith effort to keep the school in good condition.
    6. Be aware that state law mandates certain standards of building maintenance for day cares. As landlord, you have to meet those standards regardless of whether or not this works for the church budget. For instance, heating, cooling, plumbing, roof leaks, etc have to be repaired immediately.
    7. Keep the day care director apprised of your maintenance plans. If you're bidding out fence replacement, send the day care a written progress report. That way, if the state inspector shows up, she/he won't give the day care a citation.
    8. Report to the Vestry regularly on the day care; include charming stories about the day care in your newsletters. The staff and volunteer hours required to lease to a day care are significant. To make it worthwhile, you must hold the day care as a ministry.

    Do I think it is worth it? Absolutely! Children make everything better and more real.


  9. I would agree with Sarah. I served a parish where they had started a preschool as a ministry and then turned it over to a group of parents. I would not suggest a non-faith organization to rent room in the parish if they were not going to abide the Christian nature of the parish. It makes catering to non-Christian groups difficult in sharing the space.

    I love having children around the church but during funerals it was a bit of a problem as the cemetary was along side the play ground.

    But I agree with Sarah, sharing classrooms just doesn't work.

  10. we have a preschool and kindergarten in our church building, and it is owned/run by one of our members. We are very tight on space and the classrooms overlap with the nursery and some Sunday School rooms, along with the kitchen and fellowship hall. Most of the time it works out nicely, but there are territory issues for sure--when Monday morning comes, you don't want to be here too early b/c the school director goes on a rampage every week about SS teachers not putting "her" classrooms back the exact way they were left on Friday. To which I say "oh please"--our congregation is three times to large for our building, so get over it.

    Other than that, it works fine. Much better than my church in Atlanta--we were always struggling with the Montessori school that rented our space over every little thing: roof, paint, landscaping, playground, trees, parking, time, etc. The contract there was not clear at all, having been written by some random person (probably the 800 year old secretary) back in the day (that would be the good-ole-days that everyone remembers fondly but no one actually remembers).

    So, having said WAY too much, I concur with those who have said: put EVERYTHING in writing. And have it all drawn up by a competent lawyer, preferably not one who's a member of the church so you avoid conflicts of interest.

  11. I have taught in a Nursery School in a church, but was not in the 'managing' end of things. Later when I finished training in Early Childhood Education and taught in a Day Care situation I saw possibilities fraught with both good and bad.

    What has been stated so far is excellent advice. Get a Lawyer on board. The Day Care has legal things to follow too...make sure they have and do.

    Perhaps the church has a Mission Statement and so should a Day Care these days. If you have them... compare them and see where you are together and where there are differences.

    Finding out if there are cross-purposes at the beginning in whatever way you can, means you can negotiate those things and have a better start.

    Also, drop in once in a while to see what does go our church our Nursery has a half-door for everyone's safety.

    The younger the children the more differences there may be in equipment too. They also need cooking facilities and therefore a kitchen needs to be there and approved.

    Hopefully they can arrange that well enough. That requires fire safety which may be different in some places.

    Our church building also stands on as the "Safe Place" for a Day Care near us at the city hall...imagine bomb threats??, as well as for fire safety. They call on their way down the street the gym is opened and the teachers are in charge. Last time they had been in their 'sleep time' and were pretty disoriented having had to be wakened to leave.

    All Day Cares need a 'safe place' to go case. If they're in your building they need to have one elsewhere too.

    Communication is all important as usual. Perhaps someone really interested & responsible in the church might be a liason. It's an ongoing thing for both sides.

    But, a wonderful matter whether they are ever involved in your church, or any other. People remember how they are treated, not so much what is said.


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