Aspen child care officials brace for baby boom
Anticipating a 35 percent spike in demand within the next five years, Aspen child care officials are eyeing ways to expand their services, which could include building additional facilities in the spot occupied by an outdoor basketball court at the Yellow Brick schoolhouse.
“We have some work to do, and I’m looking for your direction to guide some of that work,” Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First, told members of Aspen City Council at a work session Monday.
Kids First is the child care arm of the Aspen government. It runs the Yellow Brick, home to 14 classrooms run by multiple, independent child care providers.
Ritter said a baby boom in Pitkin County is looming. She based that on the 535 responses gleaned from a child care survey that was conducted from Feb. 10 to March 4. The online survey’s participants included employees at Aspen Valley Hospital, Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen School District and the city and county governments. It also was posted on both the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority and Aspen Chamber Resort Association’s websites.
Ritter’s growth estimate is on the conservative side, given that the survey indicated a 67 percent increase in children from birth to 5 years old who might need day care within the next five years.
“That seems like a big jump,” she said. “I’m more comfortable with 35 percent.”
That would translate to an additional 115 children needing day care in Pitkin County; about 325 children are currently enrolled with licensed day care providers in Pitkin County, she said.
Both Burlingame and the Yellow Brick, which are city-owned properties, have been eyed as possible sites for additional day care facilities. Ritter pitched Yellow Brick as the more ideal spot because it would be more convenient for Aspen residents.
The additional facility could include six to 12 classrooms. The Yellow Brick has a basement space that’s currently used for city administration and storage. It couldn’t be remodeled for classrooms because child care laws mandate children aged from birth to 5 must be in a ground-level space.
Council members were on board with giving a hard look at building more facilities at the Yellow Brick, provided it is financially feasible. More number crunching will need to be done, from classroom size and how many children can be supported to whether the current structure can be remodeled to meet future needs.
Councilman Bert Myrin said the expansion at the Yellow Brick should be the last resort, noting he supports “working within the existing building and redoing the layout.” Myrin said his biggest takeaway from the survey was that parents want flexibility and affordability from their child care services, not necessarily large spaces.
He and other council members also suggested using the basement space for Kids First offices, while the ground-level space could be remodeled into a class space.
Another concern is whether the baby boom will go beyond five years, which could translate to a need for even more space, Councilman Adam Frisch said. More families are coming to Aspen, which also might explain the greater demand, he said.
Ritter also said she has fielded phone calls from people saying they want to move to Aspen and have lined up housing, but there’s a dearth in day care offerings so they can’t relocate.
A feasibility study is the next step in the process, and Assistant City Manager Barry Crook said he anticipates bringing the matter back to council later in summer or fall as part of the 2017 budget discussions.
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