Little Red School House in Snowmass Village seeks to expand
Snowmass’ sole preschool plans to expand upon its campus off Owl Creek Road in an effort to accommodate more families locally and help alleviate the valley’s increasing demand for childcare services.
The four Snowmass Town Council members at Monday’s meeting supported the Little Red School House’s proposal to demolish the toddler center toward the back of the property and construct a new two-story building on the open space behind the preschool. The town of Snowmass owns the parcel and rents it to the schoolhouse, a nonprofit, for $1 per year.
“Child care in the Roaring Fork Valley is reaching kind of a crisis level,” said Little Red School House board President Scott Arthur. “Our demographics are dramatically changing, there’s tons of families that are moving into the area with children, there’s lots of people who have lived here for years that are having children and trying to get into child care situations and it’s very difficult.”
Situated on a roughly 2-acre property, according to Arthur, the Little Red School House boasts two programs — a toddler center for ages 1 to 3, and a preschool for 21/2 years to “school age” (5 or 6) — as well as playground space.
On an average day, the Little Red School House sees about eight toddlers and 16 preschoolers, director Robin Sinclair said.
Sinclair, a Snowmass Village native, said she began thinking about opportunities to expand the schoolhouse shortly after becoming the director three years ago.
“(The schoolhouse) has done its job,” Sinclair said in an interview after the meeting. “The population is not the same as it was 30 years ago. Times are changing, and we need to keep up.”
The plan calls for a building with a 5,000-square-foot floor plan, though with more than one story, the structure likely would total closer to 7,000 square feet, Dustin Anderson, the architect on the project, told The Aspen Times.
The new building would house five “flex” classrooms that could easily adjust to different age groups based on demand, Arthur told the council.
What currently serves as the preschool building would be repurposed to offer activity spaces for larger groups, a library area, science and listening centers as well as music and movement areas, according to a letter from the schoolhouse to town council. The intent for downstairs is to create a multipurpose area for staff.
The letter to the council, signed by Sinclair and the board of directors, stated, “All buildings plans will be developed with the future growth of our community in mind.”
When asked about the cost of the project after the meeting, Anderson offered a “preliminary estimate” of $3.5 million to $5 million.
Sinclair said she hopes to raise the funds needed via a capital campaign and grants.
“Private donors are also welcome,” Anderson quipped.
The original building that exists today as the preschool was built in 1894 as a one-room schoolhouse. After many years of abandonment, in 1978 it reopened as the Little Red School House. A pre-fabricated building that now serves as the toddler center once operated as an Alpine Bank on the Snowmass Mall and was donated and relocated to the Little Red School House property in the late ’80s, according to Sinclair.
“I personally think it’s a wonderful community asset, and we just need to move towards success,” Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler said at the meeting. “I think that we all need to be open-minded relative to 5,000 square feet, as you look through a feasibility (study) — I’m going to assume you’re going to do one — to really try to nail this one for the next 20 years. I’m very supportive and would like to suggest we move forward.”
Following the recommendation of town staff, the elected officials unanimously motioned for staff to create a formal resolution in support of the schoolhouse expansion to review at an Aug. 20 council meeting.
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The waitlist for infant childcare is currently 50 deep in Aspen, and babies who haven’t been conceived or born yet are on some of those lists. Aspen City Council is attempting to find solutions to address the crisis.