In the Line of Fire 

Fire Bureau Shutters Low-Income Daycare Center

A daycare center in Southeast Portland that caters primarily to low-income kids is either a flaming deathtrap waiting to happen, or the victim of an overzealous fire inspector—depending, of course, on whom you ask.

Last Thursday, August 9, a rookie fire inspector walked in to Andi Panda Child Care on SE 80th and ordered the place closed down within three days—potentially leaving 60 low-income kids without a place to go.

The problem: The part of the building being used by the daycare—at Montavilla United Methodist Church on SE 80th—can only accommodate half that number of kids. Plus, infants were being kept in the basement in violation of fire code. Worse, the inspector ordered the business to install sprinklers in the ceiling, which could cost the church tens of thousands of dollars.

The order caught the business's owner and namesake, Andrea Bontemps, completely off guard. She's been in business for seven years, and has gotten passing inspections every year from the fire bureau, the state's childcare division, and the Department of Health.

"I think this whole thing stinks," Bontemps says. "I feel like they're coming after me with a vengeance."

Worse, she says, closing down the daycare center would disrupt the lives of over 60 parents, most of whom are coming out of rehab and similar services, paying for childcare with state assistance, and are just now reentering the work force.

She immediately took her case to city hall. At the prodding of Commissioner Erik Sten's office, Fire Marshal John Klum agreed to extend the deadline to 30 days, while Bontemps tries to relocate.

Klum was at a loss to explain why six previous inspections failed to turn up any problems, but said that part of the problem might be that the new inspector, fresh out of school, was going strictly by the book.

"There was enough concern from the inspector to issue the order, and he handled the protocol appropriately," Klum says. "But we don't want to negatively affect her business or the parents who depend on it. The bottom line is we're going to make it work."

Despite the conciliatory words from Klum, she's less than convinced.

"I feel like they're out for blood," she says.

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