Citing operating costs and difficulty finding qualified staff, the Edge announced that it will close its Playspace childcare service at its four health clubs in South Burlington, Williston and Essex.
The Playspace provides childcare for kids ages 6 weeks and older while caregivers exercise or run errands for up to two hours. The gym has offered the service for about 20 years, according to Edge president Mike Feitelberg, and about 20 to 30 families use it each week.
In a letter emailed to Playspace users on Wednesday, Feitelberg wrote that the locations in Williston and on Eastwood Drive in South Burlington will close at the end of February, while the South Burlington Twin Oaks and Essex locations will close at the end of March.
“This was a very difficult decision we wrestled with for a very long time,” Feitelberg said in a phone interview on Thursday.
He explained that the Edge tried to make the service sustainable by raising the cost of Playspace memberships “significantly” in 2017 but didn’t think they could charge more based on member feedback. The Edge currently charges a daily drop-in rate of $14 for members and $25 for nonmembers. An unlimited monthly membership was available for $65, or $49 through automatic monthly payment.
“For people who used it, they used it consistently,” Feitelberg said. But there “wasn’t enough overall usage” to make financial sense. Finding employees to work the relatively short three- to four-hour shifts was also a challenge, he added.
Parents expressed surprise and frustration over the Edge’s decision — and lamented the lack of drop-in childcare options in Chittenden County — on parenting Facebook groups.
Essex resident Sarah Lewis, a nurse at the University of Vermont Medical Center, told Seven Days that her 1.5-year-old daughter has been going to the Playspace five to seven days a week since she was 6 months old. Parents are allowed to drop off their kids and leave the facility, so her husband uses the Essex Playspace to attend CrossFit classes across the street on days Lewis works late. Lewis uses the service so that she can work out and run errands.
“It’s two hours of free time where I know she’s safe and having fun,” Lewis said. She called the Playspace “an incredible service” with “amazing” caregivers and said she hoped the Edge would reconsider the decision, perhaps by raising the prices or consolidating services to one center.
Alicia Lamonda moved to South Burlington from the Boston area last summer and said the Playspace was an important factor in deciding to join the Edge. Her 2-year-old son and 3.5-year-old daughter attend the "outstanding" Twin Oaks Playspace about three times a week while she works out and occasionally runs errands afterward.
“We were incredibly disheartened that they didn’t even reach out to members before making this decision to weigh other possible options,” Lamonda said, adding she would have been happy to pay more for the service. She said the closure of the Playspace will mean finding a new gym.
Apart from the Playspace, the Edge operates Kids & Fitness, full-day childcare programs for children 6 weeks to 12 years in Essex, South Burlington and Williston. Feitelberg said the Williston club’s Playspace will be converted to a kindergarten readiness program, which will allow the company to create a second room for infant care. The spaces in South Burlington and Essex will potentially be used for physical therapy and preventative care services.
Feitelberg said that he was working to find other jobs within the clubs for Playspace employees. In the near future, he hopes to add some form of drop-off programming for parents during peak times.
"We are disappointed we are discontinuing this service," he added, "and feel badly about the impact it’s having."