Child-care not meeting demand in Pitkin County
Despite recent additions to the local child care scene, such as a new preschool and increased capacity at some programs, the service is not meeting demand in Pitkin County, according to Director Shirley Ritter of Kids First, an early-childhood resource center under the city of Aspen.
Some of these new additions include an added room at The Cottage preschool in Aspen this fall, Ritter said, along with Growing Years School’s expansion and plans to double its capacity in Basalt.
In late August, Woody Creek Kids opened at the former site of the Aspen Community Preschool, which closed in August 2015 after 26 years.
“I think that all of these additions do give us hope, and it’s also hopeful for families,” Ritter said. “But I don’t think that it’s enough yet. I do think there is still an unmet need.”
Since January, child care programs in Pitkin County have maintained an average capacity of 96 percent, Ritter said, adding, “That’s just way full.”
The average capacity for child care services in the county was about 94 percent in 2015, she said.
In addition to current child care capacity, Ritter is looking toward the future in anticipation of a 35 percent baby boom in the next five years.
In Basalt, Blue Lake Preschool Director Michelle Oger said the preschool “has always seen such a huge need” — especially for toddler and infant care — but that this is the first year it’s boasted a waitlist for after-school care.
Approximately 220 children are on the waitlist, well exceeding the number of spots Blue Lake Preschool has to offer.
Overall, Oger said she has witnessed a major spike in the number of preschoolers on Blue Lake’s waitlist in the past two years.
“We really see a need in families that need extended care,” Oger said, referring to the early morning and evening hours that Blue Lake provides care. “Eight a.m. to 3 p.m. just doesn’t work for a lot of families.”
Blue Lake is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m, Oger said, adding that “those extended hours are just so important.”
She estimated that at least 90 percent of parents pick up their children between and 5 and 5:30 p.m. every day.
Woody Creek Kids founder Christina Holloway said she has plenty of spaces to fill at the new preschool, which opened last month.
Holloway, who has worked with young children in Aspen for nearly two decades, is licensed to care for children 1 to 61/2 years old at Woody Creek Kids.
“It’s a magical place for young children, from the views of the mountain to the playground space to the classroom materials,” she said. “I would love to have every child experience the environment that’s up here in Woody Creek.”
Twelve children are currently enrolled at preschool, which may accept as many as 26, Holloway said.
Despite high demand for child care in the area, Ritter said she is not surprised that Woody Creek Kids has room because it is so new.
“You think there is so much need and instantly people will call you and enroll,” Ritter said. “But the reality is that people are busy and it just takes some time.
“It’ll happen; I have no doubt.”
For more information on Woody Creek Kids, visit www.woodycreekkids.com.
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