Infant care facility eyes December opening in Basalt |

Infant care facility eyes December opening in Basalt

Juniper Jones tries to relieve some teething pain on the cupboard at the Growing Years Daycare facility on Tuesday in Basalt.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

Basalt families with young children will gain an option for child care in December that hasn’t existed in more than a decade.

“For the first time in 10 years, the town of Basalt will have infant care,” said Adele Matthee, director of Growing Years. “I thought, ‘What a great thing for the working families of the valley.’”

The infant care is the result of teamwork by Growing Years, the Roaring Fork School District and the town of Basalt. The school district made an agreement related to a ballot initiative last year to lease three former classrooms and office space in a building on the elementary school campus to the town of Basalt. The school building is no longer being used, but the school district agreed to make it available for child care rather than tear it down. Camp Chip-a-Tooth also leases space there.

The town of Basalt subleases its space to Growing Years at a favorable rate to help make child care more affordable.

Kids First and the city of Aspen also assisted with financial aid.

The deal has allowed Growing Years to make a huge increase in the number of children it can accept. Previously it only could handle 25 children in the two-room modular where it operated on the school campus. Now, it has expanded to 42 children ages 1 through 6½ in the three classrooms. Once renovations are finished at the modular structure, it will be devoted to infant care with a capacity for 18 children.

The number of teachers at Growing Years will increase from four last year to 8½ this year once the new infant facility is open, Matthee said.

Matthee said she thinks it is valuable that Growing Years was able to stay close to the elementary and middle schools during expansion. She believes it makes it easier for the kids to transition into elementary school. The child care can provide a great first step in the children’s education.

“We lay the foundation for these children for the rest of their lives,” she said.

The infant care center is scheduled to open Dec. 5. It will accept infants 6 weeks old to 18 months.

Growing Years is warming up this fall by renting space from the school district and offering care for eight infants. That space at Basalt Middle School won’t be available after November.

The demand for infant care already has exceeded supply at Growing Years. Matthee said there is a waiting list with 10 to 15 families for the expanded infant care.

Shirley Ritter, director of Kids First, an organization focused on child care issues, said the biggest shortage in the valley is for infant care. Fewer establishments offer it because it is expensive to operate. There must be a high ratio of teachers to infants, and the teachers’ level of training must be higher than for other age groups.

Coupled with the low supply of care, there is large demand. Many young families have recently had babies or are expecting, Ritter said.

“The addition of Growing Years is going to make a big dent in that need,” Ritter said, quickly noting that it will at least relieve the need in the midvalley. Three child care operations in the upper valley offer infant care, she said.

In preschool care overall, Ritter said it is fair to say there are spaces available at many facilities in the upper and midvalley.

“We still have the barrier of being able to afford it,” she said.

Matthee said Growing Years will charge $1,338 per month for its infant care. It’s like a second mortgage for many families, she acknowledged, so Growing Years accepts just about every type of tuition assistance available.

The town of Basalt made $75,000 available for child care causes in its 2016 budget. It’s administered through Kids First. Ritter said about $60,000 of the $75,000 has gone to scholarships so far this year, showing the high demand.

Families seeking child care assistance can contract Cecelia Martin at 970-920-5763 to learn more about options, Ritter said.