New preschool in midvalley puts a dent in local child care demand
BASALT ” After getting stuck for months waiting for child care, Missouri Heights resident Ellie Narby decided to do something about it.
Narby teamed with Anna Casey to open a new preschool in El Jebel this summer. Learning School Preschool LLC currently accepts kids from ages 2 1/2 to six years old. The partners applied to alter their license so they could accept kids as young as one year old to meet the valley’s most critical need.
“It’s just insane right now to find a place in child care in this valley,” said Narby.
It is particularly tough to find a place for infants and toddlers. The young kids need more supervision, in a practical sense and by state law. More supervision means more labor costs, so many daycares avoid the youngest children.
State rules mandate a ratio of one adult supervisor per seven two-year-olds.
Learning Curve intends to have one adult per five kids, Casey said. The preschool also will go with a lower teacher-per-child ratio for three- year-olds, she said.
That will be possible, in part, because of a grant from Bright Start, a program funded by Eagle County government to help with day care needs. Learning Curve Preschool received a $10,000 grant from Bright Start to help with costs associated with starting up.
The new preschool is licensed to accept about 45 children at its building at 0025 Gillespie Drive in El Jebel. Child care experts say the Roaring Fork Valley is facing a severe shortage of space, so the opening of a new facility is welcomed.
Kids First, an organization that works on children’s issues throughout the Roaring Fork Valley, said it fielded 1,289 inquiries from parents from Carbondale to Aspen looking for child care over the first half of this year.
“Commuting parents often extend their child care search from where they live to where they work in order to find a space that meets their needs,” said Rebecca Romeyn, a referral specialist at Kids First.
The organization tracks the number of kids on waiting lists of various child care facilities. Blue Lake Preschool in El Jebel currently has a waiting list with 116 toddlers and 46 infants, according to Kids First statistics. Roaring Fork Kids in Aspen has approximately 30 toddlers and 30 infants on its waiting lists. The waits are similar for all the facilities between Carbondale to Aspen. Pressure eases a bit for space for older preschoolers.
Romeyn said it is common for couples who are expecting a child to get on a waiting list before their child is born. In one case, she knows of a woman who even joined a list before she was pregnant.
The desperation for child care also affects the ability of some people to stay in the valley. Romeyn said officials at Growing Years in Basalt told her that three families called to be taken off the waiting list within the last year. They decided to move back to where they had relocated from because finding child care was so difficult in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“They noted that if they were aware of the child care situation prior to their move they would not have made the move in the first place,” Romeyn said.
Narby sympathizes with parents in need of child care. She stayed home with her kids, now ages three and five, when they were younger, but eventually returned back to work. She was on the waiting lists of midvalley centers until space opened at Basalt Campus Kids, a facility operated by the school district for teachers. Space is opened to the public when it isn’t needed for teachers’ kids.
It was at Campus Kids that Narby met Casey, a licensed child-care provider for 18 years at the Basalt Campus Kids, Little Red School House in Snowmass Village and in Arizona. Narby told Casey of her dream to open a preschool. She said she has always worked with kids but wasn’t licensed to operate a facility. Casey had the license but didn’t know how to go about opening a facility in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Narby’s husband John approached the Crawford family about renting vacant space in El Jebel, where the Buddies preschool program was once located. Narby, a contractor, was able to enlist plumbers, electricians, floor installers and cabinet installers to remodel the large trailer, located along the road to Eagle Crest Nursery, just off El Jebel Road.
Ellie Narby and Casey worked for six months getting the facility ready for its late July opening. They relied on word of mouth to fill spaces. The demand is so great, Casey said, “it’s just a matter of getting the word out.” Since opening, they have decided to devote more space to infant and toddler care and scale back a bit on space for older preschoolers.
One of the first decisions by Narby and Casey was to stay open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., so working parents wouldn’t face as great of pressure delivering and retrieving their kids. The rate is $50 daily.
Learning Curve Preschool can be reached at 963-9455.
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Development in Basalt barely skipped a beat in 2020 despite the coronavirus. It’s expected to be busier next year.