City of Aspen child care capacity goal on fast track |

City of Aspen child care capacity goal on fast track

Recognizing not having enough child care is an economic issue, two new facilities being planned

The city of Aspen is forging ahead fast and furiously in its push to expand child care capacity, recognizing that if parents can’t participate in the workforce, the local economy cannot thrive.

Potential providers have responded to the city’s call to operate a new infant childcare business at the Colorado Mountain College Aspen campus, which is planned to open this winter, according to Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First, the municipal government’s sales-tax funded child care program.

CMC is offering a classroom to accommodate eight infants to the city for free.

The city is currently renovating the indoor and outdoor space, which is estimated to cost $75,000 and will come out of the Kids First fund.

The fund collects roughly $2 million annually from a portion of a 0.45% sales tax and leases to child care operates in its yellow brick facility at affordable rates, as well as provides financial assistance to families.

As potential providers have until Wednesday to apply for the CMC facility, the city is simultaneously taking requests for proposals for an architecture, engineering and design team to develop a childcare center on land the municipal government owns and is being developed as the third phase of affordable housing at the Burlingame Ranch subdivision.

About 30 people were on recent a pre-bid meeting call, indicating that there is a lot of interest from potential design teams to advance the project forward, said City Manager Sara Ott.

Ott said Ritter’s efforts to move the new child care centers forward, along with her work on a regional and state level, brings one of Aspen City Council’s top goals to fruition.

“She is building not only capacity in Kids First but she’s building capacity in the community, in places where we’ve not necessarily had it before and while the advocacy part has always been part of Kids First’s mission this is a new level, the partnering with CMC, and the first time the city has taken the lead in constructing a second facility,” Ott said.

Council members at their annual retreat this past July identified child care as a critical goal to tackle for the next year.

“It’s been amazing and a game-changer,” Ritter said of the work she’s been doing with council’s support.

They agreed the municipal government should begin looking at how to facilitate access to child care with increased capacity, and the city-owned Burlingame site is the best option.

The cost estimate for an 8,345-square-foot, two-level child care center is roughly $8 million and would accommodate 70 children, including infants, toddlers and preschoolers.

How it gets paid for is something city officials will pursue with potential partnerships with employers and governments, as well as new revenue streams and other undetermined funding sources.

There are dozens of families in the valley who are on wait lists to get their infants, toddlers and preschoolers into a limited number of child care facilities and any extra capacity will help, Ritter said.

“People are really desperate for care,” she said.

City voters realized the need in 1989 when they passed the sales tax to fund child care, and again in 2008 when they renewed it for another 30 years.

“I think it’s always been a need,” Ritter said, adding that it has now become not only a regional problem but a state and national one.

Ritter, representing the city as an employer, is one of 10 groups in the state that is part of a group called Executives Partnering to Invest in Children (EPIC) that focuses on child care capacity as it relates to enabling the business community to build the workforce and economy in their communities.

She said it’s helped her gain the knowledge to bring back to other community partners in the valley, like the town of Basalt and Snowmass Village which are both pursuing child care opportunities.

“She’s playing a big regional role of building behind the scenes the capacity of the region to create these environments for our youngest residents,” Ott said. “I think we perhaps take for granted the lasting impact of what she’s doing right now will have on our valley.”

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