Where will the children go? | AspenTimes.com

Where will the children go?

Finding child care in the midvalley – never an easy proposition – will get even more difficult in October.Columbine Kids in Basalt, one of the area’s largest preschools, will close in late September unless someone else buys and operates it, according to co-owner Denise Hayes.”It was a monumental decision. The school has been a labor of love,” Hayes said.She and partner Don Bluekamp have owned and operated Columbine Kids for nine years. Before Hayes purchased the business, in the Southside area of Basalt south of Big O Tires, it operated at the same spot for several years as the Sunshine Mountain School.Hayes said the “sole reason” for closing is a desire to retire from child care and try a different career. Before purchasing the business, Hayes was the director of Growing Years in Basalt. She has spent 17 years in early childhood development.”It’s a very exhausting career,” she said. “Monetarily, it is an extremely difficult business.”The price child-care centers charge parents must cover the expense of hiring a good staff, taxes, utilities and mortgage or rent, snacks and supplies. “When you add all that up, there’s not a lot left at the end of the year,” Hayes said.Nevertheless, Hayes said it is difficult to close, especially when looking in the eyes of the kids. Everywhere she goes, Hayes said she runs into children who attended Columbine Kids and their families. The experience was extremely rewarding because it created such strong ties between the staff and families, and among the children and their families, she said. Hayes gave parents a letter Tuesday explaining her decision to close on Sept. 29. She said she hopes someone will buy the business and the building, which she owns.The closing of Columbine Kids won’t be offset by the expansion of Solara, another midvalley preschool. Solara owner Laurie Soliday and the Crawford family of El Jebel are teaming to build a new preschool near El Jebowl. The structure will allow Solara to boost daily enrollment from about 35 to 70 kids; Columbine Kids has a capacity of 56 kids per day. Soliday said Columbine Kids families scrambled to secure a spot in other preschools after they learned the facility might close. “There were 18 messages on my phone [Wednesday] morning from parents who want to get in,” she said.Solara has already filled the openings it will have from the expansion and there doesn’t appear to be enough openings in the middle and upper valleys to absorb the children from Columbine Kids. A child-care needs assessment Healthy Mountain Communities performed earlier this year for Pitkin County found that 95 percent of child-care capacity in Pitkin County is full. Other child-care facilities in the midvalley are filled to about the same level.The report said demand will continue to grow even though Pitkin County’s population is aging and the birth rate is slowing. The biggest demand for child care will come from commuting workers, who tend to be younger and more interested in having kids.”The increases in the numbers of commuters with children ages 0 to 5 will increase the demand for child care services beyond current capacity by approximately 2012 if no waitlist information is considered,” was one of the conclusions of the report. Factoring in wait-list information, facilities are already at capacity, especially for infant and toddler care.One of the recommendations of the study was for Pitkin County to help fund child-care facilities closer to downvalley workers’ homes.Hayes acknowledged the closure of Columbine Kids will make it tough for some families to find child care. “It’s going to be difficult. It’s already difficult,” she said.Columbine Kids wasn’t always filled to capacity during its nine years. Population and birth rates rise and fall in waves in the valley, Hayes said. “It’s been more consistent over the last three years,” she said.Hayes said demand was particularly high in the toddler program, for kids 1, 2 and 3 years old. She credited Susie Arbaney, supervisor of the toddler program, with doing a superb job. Columbine Kids also has programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, and 4- and 5-year-olds heading to kindergarten next year. She was particularly proud of the education-based program for school-bound kids that Cathy Spence helped develop.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com

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