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Day care chain EduKids acquired by British-based Busy Bees

EduKids, the early childhood education and day care operation that grew to 15 locations in Western New York, has a new owner.

The 30-year-old West Seneca-based firm announced Friday that it was acquired by Busy Bees, a British early childhood education provider.

The purchase price and other terms of the deal, which closed on Friday, were not disclosed, but EduKids founder and President Nancy Ware will continue with the business in the near-term, although she said her precise role and title are not yet defined.

“I’m hoping to step back eventually. I’m here to guide us to the future,” said Ware, 63. “I know I’ll be here at least 18 months, but that’s a gradual slowdown.”

EduKids employs 450 teachers and aides and serves about 2,000 families throughout the region, and Ware said there will be no changes to staffing or the name.

"Everyone that is here now is continuing to stay on," she said. "They recognize that we are a well-oiled machine and very high-quality, and they would like to continue that."

The local company is in the process of building and opening a new facility in the Elmwood Village at 125 Hodge Ave., as part of the Elmwood Crossing redevelopment project by developers Sinatra & Co. Real Estate and Ellicott Development Co. Completing that project is Ware's immediate priority.

"I’m going to be in charge of the whole construction project at Hodge," she said. "That’s going to take longer than we expected."

Founded in 1983 by three families, Busy Bees opened its first nursery in Staffordshire, England, in 1984, and has grown to become the largest child care provider in the United Kingdom.

It has since expanded internationally, becoming one of the largest providers in Canada, where it operates 89 centers, mostly in Ontario under the BrightPath Early Learning and Child Care brand. It also operates 34 facilities in the United States – including 20 that it acquired from Educational Playcare in Connecticut – and has sites in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia.

In all, Busy Bees runs more than 630 sites globally, serving more than 55,000 children. It is majority-owned by the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

“EduKids shares our core values, demonstrating so with high-quality care and programs," Mary Ann Curran, CEO of Busy Bees North America, said in a statement."We welcome its children, families and staff and we look forward to continuing to provide excellent care and service.”

Ware said the acquisition is part of her succession planning for the company, "to find somebody that would be a perfect combination with us." After being approached by private equity firms and other buyers over the last several years, she said she decided to start seriously looking at her options.

So she selected five companies that "I felt could carry out our mission and values, and allowed them to bid on proposals to take over."

From that process, she selected Busy Bees. "I had to find someone that would take really good care of our children and our staff, that really believed in the same things that we did," she said. "They’re very similar to us, in what they look like, in what they believe in, in what they teach the children."

Ware said she does not expect Busy Bees to send anyone down from Toronto to oversee the operation.

"We have a whole team here that I've been grooming for a long time, so they're ready to take over," she said.

As for herself, "I'll be around," she said, citing her involvement with the Canisius College board of trustees, and invitations to join the Catholic Health and Explore & More boards. "I'm not finished."

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